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UNLV’s BFA show finds young artists getting ready for what comes next

The recent BFA artist talks at UNLV were filled with bits of sharp things, wounds, confessions, curiosities and dreams remembered, artistic concepts layered on top like a soothing balm. Deeps words like “soul,” “loneliness,” “family,” “fear” and “love” were rolled around on the tongue.

As undergraduates, artists are in the exploratory phase, sampling mediums, trying out techniques and refining their artistic voice. Steps are taken in the shoes of those who have come before, such as a nude performance piece of Olivia Jane in the Grant Hall breezeway, adapting a piece by Marina Abramovic; or the experiments of Devin Duitsman, sampling the tradition of white paintings started by Rauschenberg. Various mantles of art philosophy are slipped on, trying out the fit, and the pain of youth is excavated for artistic motivation.

Acts of graffiti perpetrated upon tennis courts during his teen years form the meta content for the large, abstract, expressionistic paintings of Cory McMahon. He stopped the vandalism, but the passion for “mark-making” stayed with him. “It’s easy to become reckless,” says McMahon, “to give in to the materials. I like making my own rules.” Bold stripes, circles and brushy planes of color form the boundary lines for sports as yet uninvented.

Looking for answers, artists might find their work is about “honest uncertainty,” as did Lauren Verardo. “I’ve come to value … uncertainty over claims of absolute truth.” She recalled an incident when she was 9, in which an overzealous Kmart security guard pinned her to the ground on suspicion of shoplifting (she was innocent). The feeling of helplessness, as spectators walked by, ignoring the situation, was seared into her memory and fuels her work. Her piece, “Blanket,” a visceral mesh of dripping red yarn in the repeating pattern of mirror-imaged lambs, transformed a symbol of innocence into a network of exposed nerves. “What are we? Beast? Animal? Shortsighted lambs, individually innocent, collectively monstrous?” Verardo asks.

Seeking to understand personal connections, bulldogs and cats stand in for missing family members as Juan Brucelas explores family dynamics and feelings of sadness caused by separation. “When you’re down you don’t want to look at a family photo that brings you down, you want one that is uplifting,” Brucelas explains. Lonely domestic scenes warm up with additional dogs and familiar objects, such as a favorite lamp, Photoshopped in. Framed in a lightbox, the images are lit from behind, lending them a “churchy” glow. Sumptuous colors of burgundy, Hooker’s green and ultramarine blue found in curtains, bedding or a sweater hanging on a chair, causally link the compositions with Dutch paintings of Vermeer and Jan Van Eyck.

The position of artists exiting school for the first time is fragile and full of unknowns. During her introduction of the BFA lectures, Christina Brous brought up the next step the group is facing: “What is it like to be an artist in the real world?” The “wishes” of Lisa Cheung — white paper scales broken off the body of an origami fish, strewn upon the gallery floor, the delicate forms in constant danger of being stepped on — offered a poignant, if unintentional analogy, on the challenges ahead.

Donna Beam Gallery, in Alta Ham Fine Arts Building, 4505 S. Maryland Parkway,