UW-Eau Claire senior fine arts candidates have to put their best work forward each semester for the culminating project of their college career: Creating a piece for the Foster Gallery’s “Bachelor of Fine Arts Senior Exhibition.”
It’s a daunting task for students to reflect on their time in school and figure out how best to display what they’ve learned, said Chris Theo, a UW-Eau Claire professor of art and design. But the end result? He said he’s always impressed.
“What’s really rewarding, this marks maybe the academic end of the student’s career, but it’s also the beginning of their professional life,” Theo said. “It’s impossible not to remember what they’re like when they first arrived. Every year it’s rewarding to see what they’ve created.”
And this year’s batch of students is no exception. Eight seniors’ capstone projects are on display in this exhibit, which runs through Sunday, Dec. 16, in the first floor of Haas Fine Arts Center, 121 Water St.
Here’s a sampling of what viewers can expect to find inside the gallery’s walls:
A new brewery?
Graphic design major Emily Vyrostek of Hudson said her piece combines her love of branding with her love of marketing. Though she confessed she was “not a beer lover until she tried Leinenkugel’s,” Vyrostek said the city’s love of craft breweries was evident the day she arrived and became even more so through her research for her new brand, Eau Ale Brewing Co.
Vyrostek said she incorporated a mix of historical images, colors — blue and gold representing UW-Eau Claire but also the city’s French translation to “clear water” and gold as the color of wheat — as well as a simple yet unique design that would resonate with viewers.
“I wanted to include the old and the new, and how much has changed in the city through time,” she said. “A lot of people saw it and asked if it was actually a new beer company in town. I think it’s more of a socializing piece.”
In addition to creating a logo, Vyrostek created glassware, coasters, T-shirts, a bottle opener, a company sign, a tap handle and six beer flavors with unique labels of their own. Those also have ties to the city with such names as “Barstow Harvest IPA,” “Wisconsin Maple Oak” and “Wild Ban-Berry Brew.”
She talked with local breweries to get an idea of how to build her brand’s identity with products as well as what she could do to stand out in the brewing industry, something her adviser, Theo, commended her for.
“Especially in this area, there’s this explosion of microbreweries,” Theo said. “There’s a lot of wonderful designs out there, which is good, but creates a problem of how do you come up with something that stands out?”
He said the research part of the project — of any piece of art — is often underestimated by the general public, but perhaps the most important. And that stood out in Vyrostek’s work.
Though she didn’t create a new brewery for her project, she said she wouldn’t be opposed to working with someone who was interested in her brand.
Transforming tough topics
Growing up in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Genie Tran came to UW-Eau Claire to pursue her passion for painting. An illustration major, her two oil paintings and five digital illustrations on display are a literal representation of her life experiences — even though she didn’t know it at the time.
“I never really noticed that where I came from really influences what I do, but it does,” she said. “Being away from home for awhile, gaining all of these new experiences and identities made me question a lot of things about ... the general idea of who I have become and was before.”
She described her work in her artist statement as being heavily influenced by surrealism and art nouveau. At a glance, her pieces are bright, evocative designs that lure viewers in. Once there, however, her adviser Ned Gannon said the viewer begins to realize her pieces tackle everything from mental health and abusive relationships to death.
“The colors are rich, the textures are rich, and you don’t even realize what you’re looking at at first,” Gannon said. “You’re kind of seduced, and then the topic is presented to you, and it’s not so dark or grim.”
Tran said that was her goal in creating these pieces: To help people talk about topics that might be taboo or ideas people tend to shy away from in every day conversation.
But she doesn’t think it has to be that way.
“Death is usually displayed as something scary and more serious, but I want to present it as something more elegant,” she said. “We don’t talk about it a lot because we’re scared of what comes next, but it’s just an important segment of life we all go through.”
Gannon said he is impressed by the amount of research — historical, contemporary and personal — that Tran put into her work, and he thinks that’s why it combines so well her eastern Asian roots with contemporary Western culture.
“Genie was curious, which is a quality I love in students, and she looked, and looking is a huge part of being an artist,” he said. “That’s where that amalgamation of East meets West comes out. She’s made technical progress in her work, but also her own aesthetic eye.”
As a woman of color who was born outside of the United States, Tran said she also is aware of being a representation for minorities, a privilege she doesn’t take for granted.
“It’s important as a minority being able to make art, because I think art is a device for me to be a voice for those who can’t voice their own opinions,” she said.
Senior projects typically combine a passion with the personal, and perhaps that is nowhere as evident as it is for Gabriella Terp’s piece.
The graphic design major from Hudson has always had a flair for design and a commitment to working in her father’s family-owned company, 1Micro. When she went to college, she knew right away she wanted to combine those interests.
“I noticed my dad was lacking in the marketing and design department, so I decided to major in graphic design for the purpose of working for him and the family company after graduation,” she said.
The piece is a collection of pieces, posters, digital interfaces and marketing items Terp has designed for 1Micro since she began working there full time two years ago. She said it was stressful being a full time student and working full-time, but the payoff has been that much more rewarding.
“It’s cool given that it’s a family company I’ve been invested in for 20 years,” she said. “It’s nice to have a place to work that you care about so deeply.”
It’s also given her physical evidence of her education. She said she can tell the difference in designs she made when she first started as 1Micro’s graphic designer to her most recent work.
“Every time I learned something new in school, that skill would manifest itself into a design for the company within a matter of weeks,” she said.
Being the company’s only graphic designer can get stressful, but she said she’s grateful to have the creative freedom as well as put it toward a cause she cares so deeply about.
She added she was surprised by the workload that goes into her job.
“Luckily, that’s another gift I was given from my father is his work ethic,” Terp said. “He’s ingrained that in me deeply over the years.”
She plans to continue working for 1Micro well after graduation.
Political gets personal
Another exhibit on display is “Voice of the People,” a piece created by graphic design major Andreas Erickson of Eau Claire. Though Erickson declined to be interviewed for this story, Theo said that is only because she wished to have per piece remain objective and consistent with its goal: stimulating conversation.
Erickson’s piece is an American flag depicted using 26 portraits of people overlayed with text about their thoughts on President Donald Trump. The final photo is a portrait of Trump overlayed with quotes of his own.
“I feel like in today’s world, people most often find themselves unable to speak about their opinion/feelings about the president without being publicly bashed or discriminated against,” she wrote in a news release.
She explained in her artist statement that she asked each person to say the top five words that came to mind when they heard Trump’s name.
“I sought ‘raw’ and immediate responses, not ... socially acceptable vagueness,” Erickson said in her statement.
Her piece combines her love of graphic design and photography.