Thu. December 18, 2014
You have been on exchange from the Royal Collect of Art in London (RCA) for the fall semester. What interested you in studying abroad at The University of Texas at Austin?
Well, to me it was a matter of several factors coming into place. First of all, when this exchange was announced to us at the Sculpture program at the RCA, I thought it would be one of the craziest things I could do. I had just settled in London and was really excited about being there. Our MA program is only two years long, so going away for 3 months out of this seemed like a long time. But the more I thought about it, it made sense for me to go explore a place of such different scale. I’m thinking not only the university, but Austin as a city, and Texas as a state.
Returning to the United States (I’ve lived in L.A. previously) seemed like a healthy way to come full circle with a lot of things in my life and thereby also in my art. From experience I think it’s often a good idea to do the thing that seems the craziest or most daunting—jumping into the water and then learning to swim. I applied and, fortunately, got selected by the faculty at the RCA. My practice isn’t very studio-bound so it was fairly easy for me to pick up my stuff and just go.
Would you describe the themes that you work with? What drives your interest in them?
I think, to many artists, being asked these two questions feels like getting caught in the headlights. It’s quite paralyzing having to sum this up in a short and clear way. I usually tell people that I work with perception, though not just in sensory way but also often in a more phenomenological way. I am very interested in how we as humans orient and place ourselves in context and space. I’m curious about where the central nervous center of the body lap over into the more intangible and, to use the perfect German word Geistlich, which refers to both spirit and ghost, mind, and essence.
You've talked about impressions as a theme that recurs through your work. The exchange program seems to fit right into that. Can you describe how you've felt impacted in even this short time?
I think most art students collect impressions, and they try and make sense of it all in their brains and bodies. I think a lot of art is about being confused and then trying to figure out the confusion—or even surrendering to it. For me, traveling (meeting new people and seeing new places) is like stirring the pot, adding a bit of unknown and confusion. In that way it gives me something to work with.
There is a very different physical feeling of being in tense, compact, busy London and spread out, warm, laid back Austin. Some have asked me which I prefer, but to me it’s really not about that, it’s about knowing (or trying to know) both. I’m from Copenhagen in Denmark, which is a third version. Even though I love it in Denmark, I can’t imagine I would have become a very good artist if I had just stayed there, in this unstirred pot, for my whole life.
What has been the most surprising experiences while you have been here?
I don’t think I get surprised as much as I get excited. I’ve generally had a really wonderful time here. In a way, I think the most surprising thing has been how easy it was fitting in, making friends, and getting things to happen. It was brilliant to get the opportunity to have my own show in Fieldwork Projects. I think it was a great exercise and a good practice for when I get back to London and have to start working on my graduate show. In my time here, I got to meet some very inspiring persons, including the artist and musician Laurie Anderson, the retired astronaut Alan Bean, and a variety of Austin-based curators and the school’s faculty.
The most overwhelming thing, though, must be the friendliness, generosity, and talent that the graduate students at the studio art program have shown me. Not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined this kind of energy and inspiration being channeled. I deeply hope I can stay in contact with this group of people because this has been the main reason why I feel so privileged to have done this exchange.
Thu. December 18, 2014
Meghan Rubenstein is a doctoral candidate in Art History concentrating on Precolumbian Mesoamerica. Her academic research is motivated by her interest in art’s ability to facilitate, or resist, social and cultural change. Within this broad framework, Meghan explores themes of identity and modes of visual communication. Her current work focuses on architecture in the Puuc region of Yucatán between 750 and 950 CE. Her dissertation, Animate Architecture at Kabah: Terminal Classic Art and Politics in the Puuc Region, is a study of the Codz Pop, a building that provides insight into the vibrant relationship between religion, politics, and architecture during a period of local and regional transition. This research has benefited from ongoing collaboration with the archaeological project at Kabah as well as archival research at the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) in Mexico City and Mérida, and the Alexander Architectural Archive at The University of Texas at Austin.
Rubenstein’s fieldwork has been supported by a Fulbright-García Robles Fellowship, two E.D. Farmer International Fellowships, and various grants from the Graduate School and the College of Fine Arts at UT Austin. Prior to coming to Texas, she received a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and an MA from Indiana University. She has worked as an archaeological illustrator for projects in Mexico and Belize, and considers the process of drawing—both in and out of the field—an essential component of her research. At the 2015 Maya Meetings, she will present a paper entitled Scaffold Sacrifice at Kabah.
Stephanie Strauss is a second year PhD student in Art History. Her research explores the interconnectedness of text and image in early Mesoamerican art, specifically the ways in which motif (de)construction and isolation catalyzed and informed the invention and use of hieroglyphic writing in the New World. Strauss’ work uses the interdisciplinary approaches of art history, archaeology, and linguistic anthropology to situate early hieroglyphic writing systems into their greater social context. Her dissertation addresses the enigmatic “Epi-Olmec” visual culture of the Late Preclassic Isthmus of Tehuantepec (300 BC to AD 250; principally in the Mexican states of Veracruz and Chiapas). She is particularly interested in how this understudied art and hieroglyphic program relates to other coeval text and image practices, such as the Preclassic Maya or Zapotec visual systems. Strauss has recently received grants from the Donald D. Harrington Foundation, Department of Art and Art History, College of Fine Arts, and the Charles Edwards Endowment to conduct summer research at sites across the Isthmus (summer 2014) and to present papers at the annual meetings of the College Art Association and the Society for American Archaeology (spring 2015).
Strauss previously worked as a contract exhibition scriptwriter and ceramics researcher at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. She earned her BA in Anthropology and Latin American Studies from Yale University (2011), where her honors thesis was granted the Michael D. Coe award for best departmental senior project. She completed her MA in Anthropology from George Washington University in 2013. While at GWU, she was a finalist for the Philip J. Amsterdam Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching. Strauss joined The University of Texas at Austin as a Harrington Doctoral Fellow in the fall of 2013. During the 2015 Maya Meetings, she will present a paper entitled Taking K’awiil and Giving Nen: Rethinking Infant Sacrifice Among the Classic Maya.
The Maya Meetings will take place January 13–17, 2015. For details about speakers and registration, visit The Mesoamerica Center.
Thu. December 18, 2014
Why did you decide to study Studio Art at The University of Texas at Austin?
I was born and raised in Austin and wanted to pursue some type of career in the arts after high school. After seeing the tuition for private, out-of-state schools, I came to the conclusion that UT Austin was the best bargain for my education. In addition, I could continue to expand upon my local roots. I had a spectacular art teacher, Mauro Garza from Anderson High School, who introduced me to screenprinting, got me interested in the UT program, and also introduced me to gig posters, which is my passion and has driven me up to this point.
It has been a year since you graduated. What aspects of the university still resonate with you today?
Creating art is a privilege and should be treated as one. If you take the day off or are stagnant in your creativity or production, others who are willing to put in the time will pass you. If you aren’t feeling creative, spend the day exploring the Fine Arts Library at UT, which is probably one of the greatest arts resources in the world. Bob Anderson was a huge inspiration my first year, and I was extremely fortunate to have him as my drawing professor the year before he passed away. He helped me to try new things and proved, through his amazing work, that abstract art could still be immensely detailed and meticulous, while remaining expressive.
Jason Urban was my most down-to-earth professor and was honest with us about how hard we must work in order to succeed as artists. He always pushed his classes to create their best work, demanded our best, and had very helpful critiques. Jason also demonstrated the importance of research to creating artwork. Tim High showed me the importance of persistence, patience, and tenacity in printmaking.
The most inspiring art history class I took was definitely Islamic Art History, taught by Stephennie Mulder. She is a fantastic professor, who has visited a majority of the sites we viewed in class and introduced me to what is now my favorite type of art.
What advice would you give to current or prospective students?
A strong work ethic is invaluable, as well as surrounding yourself with motivated artists. Finding a group of like-minded artists has been very beneficial in my experience. You can play off each others’ strengths and make up for potential weaknesses you may have. Create a strong team so you can all lift each other up with your combined strengths.
I have been running a screen-printing and design business, CogDut, for a little over a year now. CogDut was started when I teamed up with a Chris Davis (BFA in Design, 2013), a design student going to UT Austin at the same time that I was. A few years later, CogDut was strengthened with the help of Raw Paw editor and founder Will Kauber. We quit our day jobs and took the business full-time.
The last bit of advice I will give is that school is the easy part. Once you're in the "real world," it is a constant hustle, and the competition for attention is much greater. Develop a strong work ethic now while there is relatively little risk involved, so that you will have already built momentum once you have graduated.
Also, look outside of the gallery world for work and inspiration. If you can turn your artistic interests and talents into a specialized service, you will have a much greater chance to make money with your craft. Money is important; you have to be able to buy the necessary “free time” in order to create artwork. If you can make that money doing something related to your artistic goals, then you are in an ideal situation. Most artists I have met are constantly hustling to stay where they are at, and a surprising amount of them have day jobs completely unrelated to their art form.
You've worked with some really amazing people. Which project has been the most interesting?
Designing posters for Utopia Fest was incredible; mainly because I could pick any of the artists I wanted and create a poster for them with very loose terms set by the organizer. I picked GZA and Dan Deacon—it was surreal designing for a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, especially because I have been listening to his music for longer than I have been a screen printer. Both GZA and Dan Deacon were very appreciative of the posters, and I got to meet them after their performances. Meeting professional artists of any kind has always been a source of inspiration.
Earlier this year, I painted a mural for Practice Yoga Austin, which is a really nice donation-based yoga studio on East 6th Street. The mural design has since been adapted to t-shirts, tank tops, die-cut stickers, animation, and reposted countless times on social media. My relationship with Practice Yoga has served as a great introduction into branding for a business, and they couldn’t be any cooler to work with. Lastly, I have to include Holiday Mountain, who I have been designing for a little over a year now, and are my favorite local band. It has been awesome watching their audience grow. They are a truly unique and talented group, and they are great friends.
How did your alumni artist series come about?
We started printing the CogDut Artist Series in early 2014 as a way to support our friends, bring attention to their work, and grow our own audience. Basically, we provide the funding for material and production cost, then print a limited edition of 30 shirts. We give the artist five shirts to give or sell to friends and family, then we sell the remaining 25 shirts and split the profit in half with the artist.
The alumni artist series is the fourth series we have done so far. In the past, Chris, Will, and I each picked an artist to feature; however, lately we have done themed artist series. I wanted to do a series featuring some of my favorite artist peers from when I was a student: Melissa Murray, Jacob Hamrick, and Annalise Gratovich. I feel like this was the greatest series we have done to date! Past artist series also featured the following department alumni: Santiago Tolosa, Rachel McClellan, Connor Shea, and Gillian Rhodes.
Do you have any future projects that you're really excited about?
I can’t disclose any specifics, because the projects are still in the making, but we are currently in the process of rebranding a massive coffee roasting company, which will include a new logo, redone packaging in the form of coffee bags, and a new website. The company has been really great to work with so far, and I see this being a milestone in our creative careers. It will be a real trip being able to walk into any HEB or Costco to see my work on display, and hopefully boosting sales for the brand. An added plus is that I love their coffee, so it’s pretty much a dream job. We were also offered an exhibition at one of the most successful galleries in Austin during Print Week, which is a huge honor that we are excited for. We will be creating all new art prints for this show, centered around the theme of inner and outer space.
Thu. December 18, 2014
Devin Tayne, BA in Art History
Tayne knew she wanted to become a teacher before she came to college and decided to begin by studying Art History, her favorite subject from school. She also studied History and joined the UTeach Liberal Arts teaching preparation program. During college, she developed a passion for educating the next generation about issues in art history and world history. She also grew a respect for other cultures and a desire to travel and work abroad. Tayne is now headed off to teach history in an international school in Bangkok, Thailand. Certified in teaching AP Art History, she hopes to one day teach an Art History course but isn't hesitant to sneak plenty of art history into her World History class.
Tayne said, "I'm going into a career in which I am in the position to shape many of tomorrow's minds and the Art History program has prepared me to address many difficult issues, such as gender and race inequalities, and to better the world through the power of education."
Alejandra Amaya, BFA in Studio Art
Amaya is a nomadic Texan with a passion for the ephemeral experience of identity. She creates installations utilizing sculpture as well as performance based video art. The layers of theses mediums and others speak on the different vantage points of perception and experience. When asked about her time at the university, Amaya said, "My favorite part of being a part of the Department of Art and Art History was the privilege of working with engaged peers and challenging mentors.”
Jonathan Gruchawka, BFA in Studio Art
Gruchawka was born in 1987 in the state of New Jersey, and has since lived in Georgia, Connecticut, Tennessee, and now, Texas. He switched the focus of his studies from biology to visual art while attending community college in Dallas before transferring to UT Austin. Upon graduation, he moved back to Dallas and is preparing to show his work in February at the Dallas Public Library, while continuing his work in sculpture and painting as well as preparing for application to MFA programs across the country.
Gruchawka described that the Studio Art program "was a complete physical and intellectual challenge that left me not only a much better artist, but also a more intelligent, confident, and wise person that somehow has more questions now than ever before."
Fri. December 12, 2014
Erina Duganne, PhD Art History, 2004, co-organized Northern Triangle at Blue Star Contemporary in San Antonio. The exhibition includes work by Adriana Corral, MFA Studio Art, 2013, and Ricky Yanas, MFA Studio Art, 2011, and will be on display December 4, 2014 – February 15, 2015.