For roughly 100 of the New Hampshire Institute of Art’s 400-plus Bachelor of Fine Arts students, the 2012 Annual Student Exhibition will be the culmination of four years of classroom instruction, technique-building and free-form studio work.
These seniors, as well as the rest of the institute’s BFA students, will present their art at a preview party Saturday, May 19, where they will be encouraged to discuss and sell their work. The party will kick off the student exhibition, which will run through Sunday, June 17, at the Manchester institute.
On a recent Monday afternoon, the institute’s buildings are buzzing with nervous energy and excitement. The petite, bubbly Alison Williams, chairwoman of the painting department, leads me through the institute’s original building, Concord Street’s stately French Building, which was built in 1898.
The student art exhibition will celebrate the works that graduating seniors from all of the departments — painting, ceramics, illustration, graphic design and photography — have created during the course of their yearlong “Senior Studio,” a time when they get a chance to express and explore their own voices, Williams said.
“The point of Senior Studio is to create a body of work that has a voice,” said Williams, who is from New Zealand and has worked for the institute for about five years. “The seniors are given a large space to hang their work” for the show.
It is Williams’ and the other faculty members’ job to help these students articulate their ideas over the course of their fourth year, she said. Some of Williams’ painting students have created tight, traditional, well-rendered figure paintings while others have created looming landscapes, detailed collages and mixed-media works, she said.
Additionally, “every underclassman gets one piece hung [or displayed], so there will be 900 to 1,000 works on display for the exhibition,” Williams said. “It’s pretty amazing to see the amount of artwork. Every year we see the students develop and grow.”
We zip diagonally across Victory Park to the institute’s gallery on Amherst Street. The air smells of fresh paint. A handful of young artists are working in the gallery’s first floor. Students dot second- and third-floor staircases, hallways and studio spaces, cleaning and painting, all in preparation for the show.
“It is really exciting, because the school is not so big, so most of us have taught freshman classes as well as senior classes,” Williams said. “Some students come in [freshman year, and it’s] their first time ever painting. Then I don’t have them again until Senior Studio, and I say, ‘Whoa, you didn’t know how to paint when I met you,” said Williams, smiling. “Eighteen years old to 21 years old is a huge growth period. It’s wonderful to be part of that experience and help them figure out who they are.”
We meet gallery director Andy Lucas and one of his students in a painted white studio room filled with works of art waiting to be hung, suspended, placed on pedestals. All of the paintings, photographs and other two-dimensional works will be hung first, and then three-dimensional pieces will be displayed, he explains. There is a method to the slight madness; Lucas has a plan for placement, for which pieces will complement one another within the physical gallery spaces. He hopes he and his students can install and arrange all of the nearly 1,000 pieces of art in roughly two days, he says.
The institute comprises 12 buildings, including student dormitories, the former Franco-American Centre and St. Anne’s Church rectory, which was gifted to the institute in 2009. The student exhibition will be showcased in three of the institute’s buildings: the original French Building, the Amherst Gallery and the Lowell Street Building, which was recently voted Coolest-Looking Building by Hippo readers.
In addition to its BFA program, the institute offers a continuing education certificate program as well as non-credit fine art classes, workshops and intensives for adults and high school students.
“It’s always fascinating to see the diversity” of student work, said Chris Archer, interim chairperson of the ceramics department. “People can expect to see a real wide range of thematic interests and material expression. Some of it is familiar, and those will be the points of entry for people. I think a lot of the work makes you think.”
Like Williams, Archer has been working with the institute’s seniors to help them define and execute their vision. Some of his ceramics students have been working on small arrangements and vignettes of such pieces as dinnerware and vases. One student is taking a contemporary look at traditional New England crockery while another will display her dinnerware pieces as four place settings on a table rather than as individual pieces on a pedestal, or a more traditional display, he said.
“There’s a real diversity of points of view and ways of looking at things,” said Archer, who said some students go on to open their own studios while others continue to graduate programs or post-college internships and residencies. “It’s encouraging to see a group of young people go into the world as serious adults who are critically minded.”