'It Gets Worse,' new art exhibit at Gallery 100, actually really good

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The disfigured eyes of several zombies peer out across a gallery, eyeing a cluster of birds rendered in charcoal perched on the opposite wall. Perhaps the zombies avert their gaze to avoid being noticed by a series of grotesque aliens hung nearby. Maybe the undead admire the life-like quality of the flowers hung along another wall. Perhaps they’re just excited that the opening reception of the show they’re featured in — “It Gets Worse” at Gallery 100 on the Tempe campus — has free Hostess cupcakes. It’s hard to tell.

The free cupcakes were really the least exciting detail of “It Gets Worse,” the thesis exhibition of undergraduate drawing candidates Heather Tucker, Richard Wille, Kelly Morford, Tom West, Casey Blake and Jordan Grimaud that opened Tuesday and runs until Oct. 10.

The work of these six seniors is an unlikely union, but somehow, it just works to have the national flowers of five earth-bound countries sharing a gallery space with aliens from another planet. This likely stems from one thing the artists have in common beside their medium: attention to detail. Viewers could easily lose themselves admiring the intricate detail of each feather on Morford’s birds or the dream-like shading of Blake’s triptych, “A Little Work Never Hurt Anybody.”

 

The artists, despite stark differences in their subject matter, are also brought together because the work on display constitutes their senior thesis. Thankfully, there’s a class for that. ART 482: Senior Exhibition & Portfolio, taught by faculty associate and director of ASU student galleries Peter Bugg, exists to help students with the process of putting together a portfolio for their thesis and preparing them for success beyond the studio spaces of the University.

Tucker compared the thesis process to writing a paper. You start with a rough idea, refine it into an outline, and then actually craft the pieces — which can take just as long as a paper, Tucker said.

“The next part of the paper would be editing," she said. "As artists, we are luckily to have a good amount of classmates to help give critiques and very good professors to give helpful feedback."

Pity the student that spends 40-plus hours on a single paper, though — which is how long Wille spent on “Karma Incarnate,” an insanely detailed depiction of a cartoonish alien figure with what appears to be red laser vision. And that’s just one of the several pieces he has on display.

Wille, who works in traditional illustration and occasionally includes digital elements, had no question about the work he wanted to show for his thesis.

“For the most part, I explore the same subjects in all of my work: Funny faces, gross-looking people, monsters and macabre settings. The work being exhibited in ‘It Gets Worse’ is a continuation of my pop surrealist monsters and odd characters,” he said.

Monsters are also the central subject of Grimaud — whose fantastic aliens suited up in formal attire occupy the same wall as the work of Wille. “The Reflection” offers a finely detailed portrait of one Mr. R. Leech, who sits at a desk, a monstrous grin filling his face.

Grimaud’s creative process for crafting these simultaneously magnetic and terrifying creatures are informed by his love of mythology and typically begins with the form of his subject.

“Next I play with textures and details for the surface of the subject and lastly work on developing a setting to match,” he said.

Allow us to continue our tour of the gallery. Moving clockwise, we next arrive at the work of West — the person behind the previously mentioned zombies eyeing the Hostess cupcakes.

In these disembodied faces on canvas, there remains a glimmer of humanity that draws the viewer in. It’s unsettling — that glint of residual life in these faces marred by some unknown disease that mangled their human features.

The jump from the work of West to the nature-based work of Tucker is almost comical. One does not likely imagine zombies stopping to enjoy the roses, and yet here there are: hung just a few feet away from what is, essentially, a field of flowers sans actual grass.

While deciding what work to display for “It Gets Worse,” Tucker was inspired by the diversity of the group. The eight pieces she ended up selecting range from the meticulously shaded national flowers of five countries to a series of leaves.

Now, if you’ll move north along the same wall, you’ll spot nine pieces by Morford.

Four large charcoal portraits of exquisitely rendered pigeons will likely catch your eye first.

Pigeons are the rodents of the sky, you might think. Yet, Morford’s intimate portraits of these creatures imbue them with a grace that will force you to reconsider your prejudice against them.

“They're often overlooked, vilified and even hated as pests, but I've admired them since I was a child and have grown to appreciate how adaptable and intelligent they really are,” she said.

She certainly shows this in her work, which utilizes composition and lighting to elicit an emotional connection from the viewer.

Our final stop on the tour of “It Gets Worse” brings us to the dream-like sketches of Blake, who was drawn to depicting the relationships with people and places that depict how she evolved to her current self.

“I find myself drawn to people, places, and connections that go unnoticed. I like to represent them in a light that showcases their unique nature,” she said.

This often requires delving into the realm of the abstract. Her black and white triptych features fragments of machine parts — a pressure valve, connecting valves, etc. — which seem shrouded in the dark fog of a dream.

"I use marking and tone to express the stages within a relationship — some are clearer and more defined, while others are still raw & unfinished,” she said.

Conversation overheard at the opening reception also fixated on how Blake apparently hides “Hidden Mickeys” in her work due to a casual obsession with Disney. If you look closely, you may notice up to four hidden in the dark shading of the first piece.

This brings us to the end of our very brief tour of the artists featured in “It Gets Worse,” which Bugg called “one of the best, if not the best drawing show I have seen in my tenure as the gallery director.”

Hostess cupcakes will not be available during regular hours at Gallery 100 — which are noon to 5:00 p.m., Monday to Thursday, and noon to 3 p.m. on Friday — but, honestly, the real draw of “It Gets Worse” is in the sheer talent and variety of work on display.

 

Reach the reporter at zachariah.webb@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @zachariahkaylar.

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