Gallery: Graduate art students display their work in ‘MFA’s of LA’ exhibit

(Myka Fromm/Assistant Photo editor)

By Myka Fromm

December 2, 2023 at 8:41 p.m.

From November 11-23, the Good Mother Gallery hosted works by students in fine arts programs from across Southern California, including UCLA. The exhibit, entitled “MFA’s of LA,” was meant to provide these emerging artists with the chance to develop a following for their distinct styles.

Afternoon sunlight shines against the window to the Good Mother Gallery in downtown Los Angeles.

The “MFA’s of LA” exhibit showed for two weeks in November and featured work from graduate students in MFA programs across seven different Southern California schools.

Several paintings of various sizes, colors and styles hang next to each other in the gallery.

Leslie Fram, the exhibit curator, tried to assemble a diverse sampling of pieces from across different art programs. “There is no coherent thread or theme going through anything, and that’s really what I liked about it,” she said. “It feels really fresh and of the moment, which I think is really important. And that really speaks to the artists themselves and what they’re projecting out there.”

“Exile” by Yezi Lou hangs on a wall with other pieces in the exhibit.

Modeled off of her partner’s hands, Lou referred to her painting as a portrait, but not in the traditional sense. “I eliminate the features, for example, gender, sexuality, ethnicity,” she said. To Lou, the painting represents her “in-between identity” as someone who was born and raised in China but has a different lifestyle in the United States.

Lou said she finds inspiration for her paintings in other forms of art. “I regard them as a kind of staged photography too. You manipulate your composition and your color choices and you play around with the audience.” Although most of her work is in oil paint, Lou said she chose the UCLA MFA program because it encourages its students to try out unfamiliar techniques and media, and she looks forward to experimenting more with photography and video in the years to come.

An acrylic, ink and charcoal piece entitled “Igotchu” is displayed in the gallery.

The piece, by UCLA MFA student Nehemiah Cisneros, is a self-portrait depicting the artist resurrecting a pelican. “I was thinking a lot about the healing process and rebirth,” Cisneros said. “It’s just all about healing and coming to a place of rebirth and revitalization.”

This painting is part of a series of monochromatic pieces in which Cisneros is paying tribute to his home town of Leimert Park, LA. “Leimert Park, which is the background, to me has always been like a beacon of creativity for the community of South LA,” he said.

The main figure of Cisneros’s “Igotchu” glows against the canvas’s stark ink background.

As a further homage to Leimert Park, Cisneros adorned his subject’s cloak with Adinkra symbols – a set of Ghanaian symbols meant to represent concepts or proverbs. These symbols decorate some of the sidewalks throughout Leimert Park.

His idea to utilize the shallow perspective, in which his characters appear pressed up directly against their backdrop, traces its roots from the Roman fresco style. “I’m really hyped on that one piece that was in Pompeii: ‘The Villa of the Mysteries,’” he said. “When I saw that shallow perspective, it kind of had this connection to the stage play – you know, when you see a play and there’s a backdrop and a cast of characters. That’s where my head’s at when I’m brainstorming a piece.”

As he is in his final year of the MFA program, Cisneros says he looks forward to displaying his thesis at UCLA’s Broad Art Center in March.

“Nudes,” a glazed ceramic work by Molly McDonald, is displayed beside their accompanying works, “Horse” and “Doctor.”

Although there was much variety between the exhibit’s pieces, Fram noted, “I saw a lot of hands. Even within the four UCLA artists, two of them had hands.” In particular, she said, “Molly McDonald is all about hands.”

A close-up of McDonald’s “Doctor” reveals the shine of the glaze coating the ceramic.

Fram emphasized the importance of displaying the work of emerging artists. “We need more art in our society,” she said. “There’s something so exhilarating about the process … of finding new artists and hearing their stories. It’s all part of ongoing narratives. And we can’t not listen to these narratives because it is the next generation. They need to be told, and we need to listen.”

“Needles (‘Clitorific’)” is displayed on the wall.

This piece is part of a series in which the artist, Sheng Lor, is incorporating ceramic needles. “The work is based on the superstition that I was always told growing up as a girl who was expected to stitch and embroider my own clothes,” she said. “We were told never to stitch in bed because if we stitch in bed, we will have babies without anuses.”

As someone who grew up in a Hmong immigrant community, Lor said she frequently draws artistic inspiration from her cultural background. “It’s actually all that I do. I rely heavily on my growing up as a Hmong refugee.”

A ceramic needle juts out from the canvas in “Needles (‘Clitorific’).”

Lor highlighted how rewarding the UCLA MFA program has been for her, particularly the community. “We hang out in the studios and we share ideas. We talk about art,” she said. “My peers are my favorite thing about the program.”

Looking beyond the program, Lor said she looks forward to developing her artistic career in LA. “The art community, it is so huge, and just by having that, it makes you just dream really big. You know, you see a lot of possibilities being in LA.”

“La Bota, From the Series Disco Objects” by Michele Lorusso contrasts with the intensity of “Needles (‘Clitorific’)” behind it.

Cisneros emphasized how special it is to have artists from so many schools showing their work in the same show. Citing an example, he said, “I don’t even have to go to CalArts to see it. They can just come downtown. We can all just make something beautiful together.”

A different view of the exhibit reveals the diversity of styles between all of the works.

Cisneros emphasized the value of this kind of exposure for young, emerging artists. “It just raises awareness to artists that might not have the public space attention yet,” he said. “And it connects us together.”

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