Meet the Mercer seniors behind ‘To Beginnings’ art show

454

To Beginnings is Mercer University’s Fine Art and Design Senior Exhibition, on display at McEachern Art Center (the MAC) through May 7. This eclectic, multi-artist show toasts the graduating seniors who have worked in the Art Department for the past few years.

Ben Dunn, director of the MAC, said he is proud the work of the students is being celebrated: “That they produced work of the caliber displayed here is a testimony to the power of creativity in uncertain times.”

The works span installation, sculpture, augmented reality, industrial design, painting, drawing, photography, graphic design, social practice and beyond. Dunn said the soon-to-be graduates show their growth on display, noting, “Their commitments to their own visions are significant, and their respect for the growing representation of social and racial justice in our curriculum is meaningful. They’ve stayed open, tolerating the ambiguities of burgeoning creative practices with poise. They’re Mercerians, and that ineffable character is displayed proudly in this exhibition.”

Learn more about these emerging artists:

Ethan Rogers, Graphic Design ’21

Ethan Rogers

What was the most meaningful lesson you’ve learned so far about being an artist?

All art is subject to the viewer’s own interpretation.

What challenges you? What do you still have yet to learn about your art?

I have plenty of ideas, but I’m still spending hours on the best way to execute. I have yet to learn how I want my art to impact future generations. 

How do you think your work and outlook has changed over the course of your time here?

It has become a more methodical process. I used to just throw down designs that I thought were cool, but now I think about every little decision made and how it impacts the audience.

What’s your favorite piece in the senior show and what makes it special?

Personally, my favorite piece is the large canvas I painted with spray paint for my streetwear brand. It’s special to me because the message of the brand is so powerful, and I hope it brings people together.

What’s your next move, and what long-term goals do you have for yourself?

I hope to go work for Google or Nike as a graphic designer, but long term I want to start up my own graphic design firm and also make a few brands for clothing and personal training.

When you are an award-winning artist one day, whom from Mercer would you thank and why?

I would thank the whole Art Department for molding me into the designer I have come to be and for pushing me to put my best work forward. 

Jason Xie, Graphic Design ’21

Jason Xie

What was the most meaningful lesson you’ve learned so far about being an artist?

Just keep making and creating. If we keep doing art and thinking about art, we become better artists.

What challenges you? What do you still have yet to learn about your art?

Not overthinking my work. I find it difficult to not go overboard, so I still need to learn more about simplifying my ideas.

How do you think your work and outlook has changed over the course of your time here?

I think I have become more passionate about more forms of art, so it has made me more willing to experiment instead of sticking to the same formula.

What’s your favorite piece in the senior show and what makes it special?

Fuller (Tice)’s AR pieces. Their comment on our dependency on the digital world is super interesting. Creating work that comments on our digital dependency, while also forcing us to use iPads to view his work, is a compelling dichotomy.

What’s your next move, and what long-term goals do you have for yourself?

I plan on finding work in a gallery and to continue learning about the contemporary art world.

When you are an award-winning artist one day, whom from Mercer would you thank and why?

Ben Dunn. He has been the most influential professor in how I approach my work. I have learned the most about the process of art taking courses with him.

Emily Stradling, Graphic Design & Communication Studies ’21

Emily Stradling

What was the most meaningful lesson you’ve learned so far about being an artist?

I don’t think you have to be limited to a certain discipline. My senior project was the first time I had seriously approached collage as a method. I think I’ve learned that you shouldn’t limit your creativity or your skill set. Exploration and creating personal work is important for maintaining my passion and also finding what practices I really enjoy.

What challenges you? What do you still have yet to learn about your art?

Sometimes finding that initial idea is hard. The more I design, the easier I find it to come up with ideas and be creative. I think that there are always new skills to be learned, and I want to challenge myself to learn them.

How do you think your work and outlook has changed over the course of your time here?

I don’t think that I had any real sense of style or what type of design I liked when I first started at Mercer. But over my time here, the classes I’ve taken and the greater attention I have paid to what is going on in the art world around me has helped inform what I like and what I am most passionate about. 

What’s your favorite piece in the senior show and what makes it special?

I love the senior show, and I feel so proud to be graduating with a great group of people. My favorite piece is my first piece of (American writer) Audre Lorde. My idea for my senior project came out of an initial sketch I did of Lorde, and so it is special to me that it is the first of my portraits on display and one of my favorites.

What’s your next move, and what long-term goals do you have for yourself?

I want to stay at Mercer to complete a master’s in education. Long-term I would like to complete my Master of Fine Arts and become a professor.

When you are an award-winning artist one day, whom from Mercer would you thank and why?

Tennille Shuster. As an adviser and a professor I believe she is the person who has challenged me most at Mercer, introduced me to new techniques and disciplines, and helped develop my skills.

Brett Brabham Burnett, Graphic Design ’21

Brett Brabham Burnett

What was the most meaningful lesson you’ve learned so far about being an artist?

Art has shown me that something may look one way, but once you engage with and admire the works, you gain a whole new appreciation for the artists and their works.

What challenges you? What do you still have yet to learn about your art?

Time is my biggest challenge and wanting everything to be perfect. I still have to learn to trust the process, and if it’s from the heart, then the piece will speak for itself.

How do you think your work and outlook has changed over the course of your time here?

Typography is more than just symbols and words — it can truly change a piece with the right font and style.

What’s your favorite piece in the senior show and what makes it special?

I could name any of the works in our show as my favorite, but I love mine because the whole time making this tedious portrait, I was thinking of different memories I have had so far in my life with my grandfather.

What’s your next move, and what long-term goals do you have for yourself?

To be a head content creator for a professional sports organization.

When you are an award-winning artist one day, whom from Mercer would you thank and why?

My amazing support and friend group that I made the past year. They truly saved my life and brought me out of a very dark place. I would not be here if it wasn’t for them. 

Cheyanne Ingram, Psychology and Art ’21

Cheyanne Ingram

What was the most meaningful lesson you’ve learned so far about being an artist?

The most beautiful work you’ll ever do is when you let go of the control you think you have and allow your body to move with the materials you are working with. 

What challenges you? What do you still have yet to learn about your art?

I’m a perfectionist and want everything to go the way I think it should. Art doesn’t work like that though. I have to continue to release that control and allow the material to speak and create what it is meant to create. 

How do you think your work and outlook has changed over the course of your time here?

I’ve combined my psychology and art into one, and this has allowed me to not only look into myself but has also provided me with an understanding of how art therapy works and why expressing the emotions that you bury is so important. 

What’s your favorite piece in the senior show and what makes it special?

I have two favorite ones because I feel like they express the most and mean the most to me. One is charcoal on sketch paper and represents how one can recede into themselves by trying to keep all the negativity inside. The other one is red and black acrylic paint on canvas. To me this one represents the innocence of childhood and how easily that can be stolen. 

What’s your next move, and what long-term goals do you have for yourself?

I am going to go to graduate school to get a degree in clinical psychology and hopefully specialize in art therapy. 

When you are an award-winning artist one day, whom from Mercer would you thank and why?

Eric O’Dell and Ben Dunn, because they have helped hone my skills and pushed me to create the best work I can. They made me realize that I am capable of so much more than I thought I would be. 

Fuller Tice, Graphic Design ’21

Fuller Tice

What was the most meaningful lesson you’ve learned so far about being an artist?

That there’s always potential to grow my skills as an artist beyond the place where I was the day before. No artist should ever feel comfortable where they are currently, if so, then you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough.

What challenges you? What do you still have yet to learn about your art?

I continually challenge myself daily by having post notifications turned on for Adobe’s Twitter account. Each day, a handful of tweets come out about the upcoming designers around the world, and I use these simple posts as fuel for my own work to make my own path and establish myself among a field of talented artists and designers.

How do you think your work and outlook has changed over the course of your time here?

Since coming to Mercer, I’ve had the opportunity to launch my own freelance design business that has spread to clients and companies across the United States for a handful of different projects in their own industries.

What’s your favorite piece in the senior show and what makes it special?

The entire “Viewing Culture” collection is special to me because of the amount of time and effort that it took in order to accomplish this augmented reality experience.

What’s your next move, and what long-term goals do you have for yourself?

After graduation, my fiancee and I will be getting married, and we’ll both be starting our new jobs in the metro Atlanta area.

When you are an award-winning artist one day, whom from Mercer would you thank and why?

I would thank Tennille Shuster for her constant drive that pushed me beyond my established skill set and for allowing me the opportunity to take my own direction in each of her courses.

Justin T. King, Graphic Design ’21

Justin T. King

What was the most meaningful lesson you’ve learned so far about being an artist?

Art and design is about communication and empathy. To properly be able to create for yourself or others, you need to understand and recognize the emotions related to the work.

What challenges you? What do you still have yet to learn about your art?

I’m wanting to explore more of what illustration can do for my design pieces as a whole. I am not the best at anatomy, and so learning more about that could make my work more interesting.

How do you think your work and outlook has changed over the course of your time here?

I’ve definitely leaned away from the modernism I initially started with into post-modernism. From that, I’ve started really developing my own style.

What’s your favorite piece in the senior show and what makes it special?

Probably my final piece. It’s so simple, but it’s so stylish and cool that I can’t get over it.

What’s your next move, and what long-term goals do you have for yourself?

I really want to work for either a publishing company and make book covers or a music production company and work on music promotional material. I just first have to get a starting job at one.

When you are an award-winning artist one day, whom from Mercer would you thank and why?

Probably most of the faculty from the art department, both new and old. People like Ben Dunn, Luke Buffenmyer and Craig Coleman all made and challenged my work more than it was before.

Jenny Phan, Art and Women Gender Studies ’21

Jenny Phan

What was the most meaningful lesson you’ve learned so far about being an artist?

Once art is in your heart, you should never let it go. 

What challenges you? What do you still have yet to learn about your art?

Anxiety challenges me because an artist is usually never satisfied but must learn to just do it! Patience and discipline is the hardest part of art that I am still learning and practicing.

How do you think your work and outlook has changed over the course of your time here?

I am slowly building a personal style in my art. I used to think art is a discipline that you just practice on your own to get better. This is true; however, there is so much more you can learn from art. Researching other artists and admiring others’ work is essential and can inspire you. Also, art helps grow character development. You yourself are art to build and create.

What’s your favorite piece in the senior show and what makes it special?

The painting of (writer) Kate Hellenbrand is my favorite piece because I struggled with that portrait. It is satisfying to see it come together especially when during the process I constantly repainted, reblended and told myself I can’t, but I did.

What’s your next move, and what long-term goals do you have for yourself?

I have created an art store website where I sell my paintings and complete commissions. I am a young entrepreneur and CEO that will build multiple streams of income, mainly through art practices. My biggest goal in life, however, is to find and maintain inner peace and elevate to the best version of myself soulfully.

When you are an award-winning artist one day, whom from Mercer would you thank and why?

I would like to thank Dr. Samantha Murfree of Student Affairs. She is one of the sweetest people I know. She owns a women’s ministry, which is very empowering and inspiring. During my college years, she has cared for me and introduced me to so many resources that got me through the worst moments of my life. She consistently stepped her foot down to support me and understands all of me — a very special friend and mentor. 

Ashley Conlon, Art ’21

Ashley Conlon

What was the most meaningful lesson you’ve learned so far about being an artist?

If being an art major taught me anything, it taught me to have more confidence in myself and my own decisions. You have to trust yourself a lot when you make art. During critiques, sometimes people won’t like one of your pieces, and that’s OK. When that happens, you have to listen to their suggestions, evaluate them, and then decide for yourself whether you think they will make your piece stronger or not. If you are happy with the piece how it is, leave it! 

What challenges you? What do you still have yet to learn about your art?

One of my biggest challenges is that I have trouble knowing when a piece is finished. The first time I have ever felt like I was done with a piece was this year, and even then, I know that if I opened the file, I would want to keep working on it. What is there to learn about my art? So much! That is one of the most exciting parts about the discipline — you will never run out of things to learn and experiment with. Currently, I am working on creating work to get a feeling across to the viewer. I’ve been experimenting with color and space recently to do this, and I’m excited to see how this challenge will grow and change in the future.

How do you think your work and outlook has changed over the course of your time here?

Art is made for a plethora of reasons, and that is one of the biggest things that I have been realizing through college. Before college, I thought that a good painting was one that most accurately depicted its subject. Now I know that realism is not the only goal or purpose for painting. Sometimes, painters don’t really care how accurate their work is; they want to use messy brushwork and outlandish colors to portray a feeling instead. Sometimes art is made solely for the purpose of art and exploring shape or line. And sometimes, art is made to criticize the ideas and definitions of art itself! One of my favorite parts of studying at Mercer has been attending artist talks and learning why the visiting artists make their art. They always have the most amazing stories, and I learn something every time. Because of all of this, I have learned to really think about why I’m making my art and how the decisions that I make can affect its impact. For example, I wanted to make a photo for the senior show about a blanket with comforting phrases on it. After some sketching, I realized that because the goal of the work would be to comfort viewers, the piece would actually be more impactful and more meaningful as an actual blanket instead. So, I decided to make a quilt. No, it’s not an incredibly skilled, masterful piece, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to wrap someone in warmth and love, and now it does.

What’s your favorite piece in the senior show and what makes it special?

Without a doubt, my favorite piece in the show is the quilt. Although it was difficult and out of my comfort zone, I am so proud of it. I think the work is one of the most impactful in the show because it incorporates handwritten letters from real people who have experienced sexual assault. Turning those words into a blanket makes them something that can help physically support and heal others.

What’s your next move, and what long-term goals do you have for yourself?

After I graduate, I will be pursuing a Master of Arts in Teaching in middle grades education. Long term, I hope to help support students in public schools for as long as I can, while continuing to advocate for others with my art on the side.

When you are an award-winning artist one day, whom from Mercer would you thank and why?

So many of the faculty members at Mercer have gone out of their way for me, and I never want to take that for granted. Even starting from the admissions process, my admissions counselor Michael Sears introduced me to my now best friend. Dr. Kelly Holloway, also from the admissions team, has kept in touch through the years as well, and I am so glad to know such a wonderful person. The professors at Mercer care so much, and I have learned that first-hand. Dr. John Stanga, Dr. Margaret Symington, Dr. Sharon Augustine, and Dr. Virginia Young are all professors that, although they never had me as a student, all happily went out of their way to meet with me and advise me in one way or another. Without their guidance, I would not be on the path that I am today. Other professors that I did have impacted me too, namely Dr. Mary Alice Morgan and Gary Blackburn. They both had so much faith in me and have supported me throughout my time here at Mercer. I could not have done this without them. I could spend all day naming Mercer faculty members that have supported and greatly impacted me (Lauren Shinholster, Dr. Abigail Dowling, etc.), but overall, I would just like to thank everyone at Mercer, for their dedication to the students and their passions that they share with us.

 

Do you have a story idea or viewpoint you'd like to share with The Den?
Get in touch with us by emailing den@mercer.edu or submitting this online form.
Julia Rubens is the director of arts marketing at Mercer University, where she seeks to promote The Grand Opera House, McEachern Art Center, Tattnall Square Center for the Arts, Townsend School of Music and the McDuffie Center for Strings.