How two art graduate students are making their exhibitions personal

With Women’s History Month coming to a close, two UA graduate students reflected on identity and existence through a pair of gallery exhibitions.

Monica Nakashima and

Graduate students Ashlee René Thompson and Sandra Vega, presented their thesis exhibitions in Sella-Granata Art Gallery inside Woods Hall. The exhibitions were available to the public from March 1 to 12. Both Thompson and Vega expressed interest in hosting two new exhibitions in the Spring of 2022.

Thompson holds a master’s of liberal arts degree and a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with a minor in art history from Auburn University at Montgomery, where she serves as an adjunct instructor. Vega holds a bachelor of fine arts from the University of Texas Permian Basin.

Thompson has been affected by mental illness for 12 years, and her exhibition “Synaptic Transmission” aims to advocate for mental health awareness. 

Her art featured various colors and shapes birthed from strokes of acrylic paint, some featuring scientific elements like trace outs of brain neuron chemical structures. The tone was abstract, but some effects had specific and significant meanings, such as drips of dark paint representing intrusive thoughts. 

Thompson, whose concentration is in painting, also featured ceramic structures, which carried the same message but in a more third-dimensional presentation. 

“I use abstraction because I believe that complex concepts like mental health cannot be represented objectively,” Thompson said. “This is my version of creating something that’s making the invisible visible.” 

Thompson’s nine works featured in the Sella-Granata Gallery included “Rapid Heart Rate,” “The Mind as a Vessel,” “Neuron Structure,” “Inside an Anxious Mind,” “Serotonin,” “Synaptic Transmission II,” “Daily Reminders,” “Coiled Depths” and “Seeking Answers.” 

Thompson said one of the challenges she faced this spring with her work was making collage paper material stick down on the canvas fibers. While sticking paper on top of paper is a seamless transition, Thompson appreciates the look of collage on canvas due to the textured effect it gives off. 

“Figuring out that mixed-media paper was my niche,” Thompson said. “[It] was a big revelation for me.” 

Thompson’s neighboring exhibitor also expressed herself through her pieces, but through different materials and messages.

Vega’s exhibition “Caminos De Identidad” translates to “A Search of Identity.” Her current works primarily use ceramics and prints as mediums. 

Her art primarily featured human bodies and limbs, such as hands and feet, coexisting with insects. 

“The integration of insects into my work came with my fascination of their existence—creatures that are more adapted to this world than people, yet most commonly found crushed on the sidewalk,” Vega said in a printout distributed as part of the exhibition. 

Vega’s lineup featured eight works titled “Alcanzando: Manos,” “Alcanzando: Pies,” “Tierno: En Manos De Mamá,” “Te Sostengo,” “Conclusiones De Verano,” “Reverencia,” “Las Tres” and “Genealógico.”

One work that differed from the subject of insects was Vega’s “Genealógico,” which featured the five different skin tones from the extent of her family tree, which she described as “her most effective piece.” 

“I like to call it the result of an identity crisis and trying to figure out who I am in an academic setting,” Vega said. 

This was Vega’s first time exhibiting ceramic- and 3D-based art. She described the new experience as “exhilarating” and something that aided in more of “a stream of consciousness” process. 

Both artists were satisfied with the feedback they received about their work, both from their professors and casual viewers. 

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, only ten people were allowed to visit the gallery space at a time. The pandemic also prevented the artists from hosting a reception. However, both Thompson and Vega were able to show family members around the gallery during the two weeks. 

The pandemic also affected both artists’ creatively. 

Thompson tested positive for COVID-19, which not only led to her whole studio group having to quarantine but also caused a delay in her works in progress that would have been featured in this exhibition. 

Vega said it was hard to find motivation and momentum after the abrupt pause the pandemic created.

Vega anticipates creating more three-dimensional works while Thompson is continuing her paintings that were halted. 

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