Fine arts masters on threshold of success

MFA Student Exhibitions
Sholeh Dalai Cusack
Autzen Gallery
Neuberger Hall
Now through May 25
Reception tonight 5:30-8 p.m.

Agata Fic
Gallery 299 (299 NH)
Now through May 25
Reception tonight 5:30-8 p.m.
Call (503) 725-3515 for more info

It’s getting close to the end of the year, the time where busy degree-receiving students begin to wrap up their activities and start preparing for jobs in the real world.

The way the master’s of fine arts candidates at PSU handle their job prep is through a final exhibition of their work, or a thesis, which fulfills the requirements for the degree.

These exhibits come at the end of a rigorous two-year-long course of study.

According to the master’s in fine arts Web site, the MFA program trains artists through exploration of new materials, discovery of new methodologies and the challenge of creative ideas. A knowledge of contemporary and historical theory is combined with these discoveries to provide the student with his/her own artistic identity and a lifelong discipline of learning and exploring.

Because of its intensity, exclusive privileges and prestige, the master’s in fine arts program usually graduates six to eight students per year. This year, the number is six.

By the end of the term, all six artists will have had a solo exhibition of their work. For some, this is the first solo showing of their career. For others, just one of many. No matter what the case, the shows this spring serve as the bridge between the university world and the professional world.

The MFA program has a secret ingredient for success. According to PSU Gallery Coordinator Mary McVein, “Quite a few of our recent graduates have been accepted to local galleries and have been featured in the local biennial at the Portland Art Museum.”

McVein said for the last six years, the Portland Art Museum’s biennial has featured one of the recent PSU master’s students. Former MFA student Mark Smith even won the top award at the biennial.

Two artists have already shown their works this year. Two are showing now, and two more will show in early June.

Sholeh Dalai Cusack is among the master’s students displaying work. Her exhibit opened Monday in the Autzen Gallery, and runs until Friday, May 25.For Cusack, this exhibition is the artistic representation of her analysis of life as an Iranian emigrant.

“My ambition is to transcribe what I see of history, society, people and landscapes into concept, space, form and color,” Cusack said. In her official welcome letter to the exhibit, she notes that she cares more about the improvisation and spontaneity of a painting, rather than its direct resemblance to nature.

Her paintings can definitely be described as surreal, symbolic and colorful. Cusack describes her work as “brilliant hues revealed through layers of complementary colors, through a scratched surface … like flashes seen through scraped skin.”

Using large arm-strokes and marks of color, Cusack creates an environment that seems flat and three-dimensional at the same time.

Cusack left her homeland of Iran in 1985, and earned her undergraduate degrees in art and graphic design at Portland State, at a time when she felt the art department was very rigid and “static.” She then spent the next five years in the professional world as a graphic designer. She left that world because it wasn’t fulfilling to her.

“I have to give all my heart to what is meaningful to me,” Cusack said. Leaving the graphic design world wasn’t an economical decision, she said, but a decision to be happy with herself.

“That’s why I decided to come back to school. I got the support, a place where people would understand me, and where I could focus.”

Since coming back to PSU, Cusack finds that the art department has changed by leaps and bounds. She now sees a very alive environment, with a “sense of community that is really tight.”

Now, in her last weeks as a student at PSU, Cusack is preparing herself for the outside world again as a lifelong artist, no longer constrained by the boundaries of commercial design.

There will be a reception tonight in the Autzen Gallery from 5:30 to 8 p.m. for Cusack’s exhibit. Iranian musicians will be present to add an interactive element to the experience.

Cusack shares her exhibit time with Agata Fic from Poland, whose showing occurs over at Gallery 299. Fic’s show is titled “Song of Songs: The Sublime.” Her paintings reflect the poetry contained in the Bible’s Song of Songs with iconic landscapes.

Besides the art itself, McVein reported that Fic incorporates audio and video into her exhibit, creating a unique artistic experience.

She also has a reception, which will feature live performance art. Her reception is tonight as well, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. in Neuberger Hall’s Gallery 299.

After these exhibits, the two galleries will hold works by MFA students Isaka Shamsud-Din and Laura Hatcher. Shamsud-Din will feature figurative and narrative paintings, while Hatcher will showcase her sculptures. These exhibits will run in Autzen and 299 from June 4-15.

All of the PSU community is invited to these events. This may be the last chance to see their work for free before having to pay to see them in the Portland Art Museum.