One of the first paintings to catch the attention of visitors entering the Northern Arizona University Beasley Gallery is “Ghost (Self Portrait)” by Hannah Stone. The oil painting is a portrait. But instead of it being one face, it is two overlapped in a way that creates a kind of tension and unease.

The painting often draws viewers over, curious to uncouple the faces and understand who they are looking at. While finding most of the features of the faces is easy, it is difficult to separate one eye, which looks shared in the picture.

“I like examining relationships in my art,” Stone explained during an interview at the gallery. “It’s interesting how the people we know can alter our own identities. I try to look at that idea through paintings with overlapping faces.”

Stone is a few weeks from graduation but has already lit up the art world by becoming a featured artist with Saatchi Art Online, an extension of the Saatchi Gallery in London. The original of her “Ghost” portrait has already sold. 

Stone is one of 12 students featured in one of the more media-balanced and extensive NAU Bachelor of Fine Arts Student Show in recent years. The show features five painters, three-printmakers and four ceramic artists.

The Beasley Gallery is located on the second floor of the Performing and Visual Arts Building. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and the show is up through May 9. It’s free admission.

Portraits and clay

While the dozen student artists all have different approaches, styles and motifs with their work, gallery manager Chris Taylor said that he has noticed a few themes and connections surface among the variety of work.

“Most of our paintings with this show are focused on figures and portraiture,” Taylor said. “The paintings are strong and diverse. ... Also, compared to previous years, we have ceramics that are more traditional and not as sculptural.”

He added, “With four ceramic artists, five painters and three printmakers, we’re almost equal in the kinds of media we have this time. ... We had an upswing this year (with number of students). It tends to ebb and flow in that way.”

One of the ceramic-artist students, Coleton Lunt, has a number of curvy and organic works that walk the line between form and function. The colors and elemental, natural look of them comes with his approach to the process. Lunt explained that he uses wood-fired kilns and that he is not the only artist involved in the process.

“My pieces are really canvases for the flame and ash,” he said. “There are the flame patterns and the ash deposits ... There’s this river of flame that flows through the kiln and that plays a factor in how the pieces turn out. Where and how I place the pieces in there also dictates how they’ll turn out.”

He added, “There’s a lot of chance and probability and a high loss rate. To create these six pieces in the show, that’s probably six out of a hundred I made.”

The big display

Not far from Lunt’s work are surreal portraiture paintings by Hank Mattson, which connect well with the ceramic vessels. Mattson’s work features wine as a unifying theme among the pieces.

“I see this correlation between wine and the creative process,” Mattson said. “I approached these with a freer and less restricted approach. I also tried to incorporate skewed perspectives.”

Along with Stone, Lunt and Mattson, the BFA show includes the work of painters Gregg Cartwright, Rudy Dawahoya Jr. and Louisa Schlegel; the printmaking of Eric Shortsleeve, Clay Abbott and Sara Cook; and the ceramic work of Chelsea Union, John Homes and Ryan Rose.

Taylor noted how the undergraduate art students at NAU are fortunate in that they get to show in the Beasley, which is one of the largest gallery spaces in Flagstaff — on par with the floor space of the Coconino Center for the Arts.

“It’s rare for BFA students to get this much gallery space to display their work,” Taylor said. “So, it’s great when we get a big and diverse show together like this.”

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