Lessons Learned 

Local college graduates create some stunning, searing works of art.

One of the most powerful and unsettling bodies of work in the Memphis College of Art MFA thesis exhibition consists of six small oils on panel by Kendra Bulgrin. In one painting, a cow stiff with rigor mortis lies on its side. Nearby, a chicken stuck in its own yellow-green excrement bends over to drink from the purple swill that drips down the panel. The work's title — To turn from some gesture/that seemed urgently felt, but opaque/as a forgotten language — are lines from Susan Stewart's poem "The Forest." Bulgrin's work speaks of the loss of animals grazing on family farms, of the cruelty of corporate farming, of a poisoned environment. Her hypnotic colors, devastated landscapes, and haunting titles ream our individual and collective consciousnesses to the core.

A 12-foot-tall, vaguely figurative bolt of satin filled with the pungent smell of decaying daylilies is the centerpiece of Erinn Cox's Memento Mori. The installation also includes small, ominously beautiful pillows on which Cox has woven the design of several disease processes. A fisheye lens placed on the gallery wall creates the impression that we are looking deep into the body/mind of an artist whose work is filled with the dualities of existence — joy/pain, fear/relief, beauty/decay — that she experienced during a grave illness and recovery.

At On the Street Gallery through May 13th

Some of the most haunting works in the University of Memphis' MFA exhibition are in "Ephemera," Nancy Cheairs' quickly executed watercolor washes that include an infant flying Chagall-like through the air, a woman on her knees praying, a headless figure in a pose of crucifixion, and a woman floating in infinite shades of gray. In Cheairs' large, untitled oil on canvas from the "Floating World" series, a green aura surrounds an armless woman. Nearby, the branches of a tree reaching out like arms complete the body of the figure and suggest a world full of interconnection, healing, and grace.

In Just Desserts, one of strongest paintings in Jada Thompson's MFA thesis work, a foreshortened body seen from the waist down relaxes into new growth. Graceful tendrils winding around the body are repeated in the curvature of the kneecaps and the turn of an ankle. Like Cheairs, Thompson finds her own voice, faces her own demons before she embraces the world around her.

At AMUM through May 19th

More student work from recently closed shows at Rhodes, the U of M, and MCA are too good to pass without mention.

Jeff Simmons' Metal Construct 6 is part copper wiring, part vintage typewriter, and part motor and electrical components of an organ. This quirky sculpture evokes the cogs and complex wiring of a creative mind.

For his U of M BFA exhibition, Scott Fulmar has created surreal landscapes where Magritte meets Dr. Frankenstein. Fulmar's computer-manipulated inkjet prints of naked and sometimes dismembered bodies are neither pornographic nor horrific but sardonic comments about an impersonal, industrialized world. In The End of Space, a woman is hoisted into the air on a sharply angled billboard. Rather than evoking a sexual response, she generates feelings of empathy as we observe yet another consumer being consumed by an out-of-kilter capitalism.

MCA BFA candidate Erica Page blew holes through three pairs of back-to-back cotton panels onto which she printed larger-than-life images of students and middle-aged professionals. Their expressive faces are powerful indictments: Viewers witness all the beauty, experience, and potential that are about to be compromised or lost. Slender filaments woven at the edges and across the wounds bring to mind the growing web of violence that threatens to enmesh us all.

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