Inside Northern Arizona University’s Beasley Gallery, fluorescent colors burst from the walls amid bronze forms and the gaze of a hundred eyes. Each piece is a window into the experiences of the School of Fine Arts program’s newest graduates-to-be who are dissecting profound themes.
"The BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) Show: Spring 2017" is open now through May 12 in the Beasley Gallery, second floor of the Performing and Fine Arts Building, with a free reception Friday, April 28 from 5-7 p.m. Visit Nau.edu/CAL/Events/Parking for parking details.
Senses of self
Taylor Bystrom tours visitors through his corpus, excitement flowing as freely as electricity from a socket. And with each piece sparking important conversation, his demeanor is understandable and invaluable.
“Hockey was the first sport I played as a man,” said Bystrom, who began transitioning from female to male five years ago, self-paying for surgeries and hormone therapies.
The first 100 people through the BFA Show receive 3D glasses to view Bystrom’s bold palettes coloring pop art and modern Art Deco touches. In addition to canvases, he’s also displaying a number of flat plywood characters described as facets of himself.
Pointing to the Ts that represent both Taylor and transgender, he explained, “All my art is activism without being too in-your-face about it. All of my work is a self-portrait.”
These portraits reveal a universal message of inclusion, Bystrom said, that intersects with the violence trans people face. To spread awareness, he’s also making artful hockey jerseys that will populate a clothing line for transgender and gender-nonconforming people to tap into confidence and expression.
“Feeling like you’re part of the team, feeling like you belong — that’s my mission,” he added. “We have so many trans murders that happen in the United States. If I can put a fun spin on it and make it colorful and get people to talk about my work, then I feel like I maybe can change people and help change the world.”
The eyes have it
For Morgan Sampson, her oil paintings chart a sea change in technique and approach. But each assumes a commonality: addiction.
Pointing to the red Xanax bars littering the bottom of “Delirium Tremens II,” she spoke of repeating motifs that mirror her battles with addiction and anxiety.
“I always think about the eye because I can always tell if somebody’s high, or I am, from the eye,” she said of the yellow orb staring from the canvas.
But the artist explained she’s pulled back from this dense imagery to focus on thoughtful line work and a drawing style she said is more natural to her while repeating images to induce anxiety in the viewer. A second “Delirium Tremens” includes a figure that was inspired by her brother who also struggles with addiction, and speaks to symptoms of withdrawal.
“I made these to show that sometimes it feels like I can’t even talk, and if I do, it’s just a bunch of gibberish,” she said of the motif. “I wanted it to be in a corner so you’re almost surrounded by it. The mirror aspect, like you’re looking at that different side of you. Maybe the darker side.”
Painting this rote battle has honed her practice and lent clarity, she said.
“This has helped me a lot to really pinpoint it because I’m good at ignoring things,” Sampson added. “This kind of brought it out of me.”
Do no harm
Atop a tall pedestal in the center of the gallery’s main hall, disembodied legs cast in bronze straddle hundreds upon hundreds of syringes. For Danielle Herrera, the legs of “At Your Cervix” are hers, and so is its core.
Like millions of well-meaning women, Herrera was trying to be responsible. Instead, a year-and-a-half of Depo-Provera birth control shots ignited menopause in the 22-year-old sculptor.
“My hormones were shot. I basically got all the negative side effects you could possibly imagine,” she explained.
The piece is a multi-faceted confrontation, one that created anxiety for Herrera, who confessed she hates needles, and parceled out the negative consequences of would-be smart choices.
Her second installation, “Burnt Out,” captures this tension along with the emotional pull of hormone imbalances that hint to internal discord.
“It’s like you’re tied down and stuck until you make that move and talk to your doctor,” she added of the fabricated rope maze spiked with needles.
Since creating these pieces, Herrera found the discussion has caused some to think twice about Depo-Provera. Others have been able to share their personal stories as she expresses hers with a mix of seriousness and humor.
“It’s weird buying hundreds of syringes, but I figured it gets the point across. Amazon is going to think I’m nuts, or just have a really hard drug problem,” she said. “Nope — it’s art.”