Assembly | Spring 2020 | #1

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is the art journal of the School of Fine and Performing Arts at the State University of New York at New Paltz


Welcome to the first issue of Assembly, an art journal published to celebrate the work and accomplishments of students from the studio art program at SUNY New Paltz. This online publication was born out of crisis. This spring, our students faced an unprecedented moment when a global pandemic forced a totally new reality for social interaction. This manifested as the need for distanced learning and the closure of our physical facilities. For art students working diligently toward their final projects, studio access became impossible and the opportunity to exhibit these developing works in the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art disappeared overnight. As the COVID-19 outbreak unfolded, many of our students continued to work in jobs deemed essential and others struggled financially as the economy faltered. The murder of Geroge Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis ignited powerful protests supported by the groundwork of Black Lives Matter. A national and international conversation on systemic racism and related protests continue as I write this introduction. This is 2020. This was the state of their world as students finished up their coursework in May. But let’s be clear: This publication is not about staying stuck in the face of crisis. It is about moving forward and finding innovative solutions to seemingly insurmountable situations. The upside of upheaval is the opportunity for reinvention and paradigm shift. This is not a time to think about getting back to normal. Instead, we must ask how we can recalibrate to create a more just future for a world that in so many ways is beyond its tipping point. Close to home, for the BFA students, this has taken the form of an exhibition organized with our community partners at the Woodstock Artist Association and Museum, and the birth of this journal. This new alliance, the resulting show, and this publication represent a dynamic transition from the safe harbor of college into the professional world. This first issue is devoted solely to the exposition of our spring 2020 BFA cohort. It is a testament to their resilience. Moving forward, Assembly will become a curated, student-run journal that features artwork, interviews, and critical theory from our BS, BA, BFA, and MFA students enrolled in the Studio Art, Art History, and Art Education programs. So why call it Assembly? Because, in this tumultuous moment, we long to convene as a community, with common purpose. The name evokes all the “assemblies� we attended as children, when we gathered for creative activity in our schools. Assembly can be one more tool for binding us together, a crucial nexus, when we are kept apart and feel that isolation. Right now, we miss the tools and the space, the accumulated skills and materials that we use to assemble the artworks that were conceived in no small part through open conversation and critique. Later, when we return to the studio more fully, it can do the same. It can offer a hub of collected endeavor, when our heads are down and we are pushing to finish ambitious projects under tight deadlines. Finally, and most importantly, Assembly references coming together to construct a different reality. I have confidence that artists, with their unique skills for reimagining the world, will play a crucial part in the changes that are necessary to assemble new adaptive and regenerative frameworks as old models fail and falter.

Michael Asbill, Visiting Lecturer in Sculpture



Elizabeth Berger


Amanda Bogatka


Emily Cavanaugh


Miranda Crifo


Robert Cusack


Mary Flanagan


Taylor Gephard


Alexa Guevara


Shabiha Jafri


Kejiayun Ke


Naira Luke-Aleman


Sam Mazzara


Joel Olzak


Paige O’Toole


Megan Reilly


Claudia Rosti


Jiabin Zhao




Elizabeth Berger Emily Cavanaugh Amanda Bogatka Miranda Crifo Robert Cusack Mary Flanagan Taylor Gephard Alexa Guevara Shabiha Jafri Kejiayun Ke Naira Luke-Aleman Sam Mazzara Joel Olzak Paige O’Toole Megan Reilly Claudia Rosti Jiabin Zhao 6

For a while it seemed like something essential was missing in my artistic practice. I was searching for a way to link my newfound farming and gardening knowledge with my printmaking abilities. As I began my research for my thesis project, I came across natural dyeing—and this process couldn’t have been a more perfect fit. From the growing and the harvesting, to the precise weighing and the note taking, the whole process felt remarkably instinctive and familiar to me. It truly felt like the world of natural dyeing fell fortuitously into my lap. As the pandemic became our new reality, I didn’t have to adjust my artistic practice as much as some of my peers. I felt quite lucky to have recently embarked on a process that already involved me less in the studio and more at home. Consequently, I was able to complete my thesis. It’s important for me to view this global pandemic in the most positive light possible. In fact, I am quite grateful for the time that it has given me. It was a gift to be able to slow down and really contemplate. Time lost its preciousness, it became abundant and full of space. And because of this I feel like I was able to understand and realize my artistic practice in a much more fulfilling way.






The aspect that I admire most about natural dyeing is the unpredictable nature of it all. Dyeing makes the decisions for me, and I’m very rarely disappointed. Like anything else that’s alive and growing, the molecular reactions that take place within a dye bath are dependent on so many factors. The ratio of dyestuff to fiber, the heat of the bath, or the type of water used, are only a few of the variables that come into play when working with natural dyes and pigments. The pieces I have created for my thesis project are not meant to instigate or to be political, and I certainly don’t make art in order to make people believe in something. I know what this work means to me, but I like to leave doors open for the viewer so they can interact with it in their own personal way, and process the material through their own experiences. With the creation of this work I am simply wishing to bring the beauty of nature to light. They stand because they are alive. You stand because you are alive. As time passes, they will lose their color, and the patterns won’t disappear but they will fade. Life doesn’t stop, and things go on living without us. I know what these pieces mean to me. They represent the passing of time, my reflection on my past, my need for organized chaos, my affinity for the natural world. But what does it mean to you, the viewer? The toucher? The feeler of fabrics?


Elizabeth Berger

Amanda Bogatka Emily Cavanaugh Miranda Crifo Robert Cusack Mary Flanagan Taylor Gephard Alexa Guevara Shabiha Jafri Kejiayun Ke Naira Luke-Aleman Sam Mazzara Joel Olzak Paige O’Toole

Claudia Rosti Jiabin Zhao 12

Two Faces

Megan Reilly

The BFA...was a dream come true, to say the least. It gave my life and my degree purpose. In 2016, I came to SUNY New Paltz thinking I wanted to become a graphic designer, yet within a year I knew I was mistaken. After taking endless foundations courses (some painfully boring, while others only slightly boring with interesting professors) I began wondering what I wanted my future to look like as an artist. In my first semester, a talented painting BFA/TA made me wonder if I had chosen the right path for myself. After all, I had very little experience in graphic design at a high school with barely any digital arts curriculum. Nonetheless, she inspired me to explore my truest passions — whatever they may be. Soon enough, I started experimenting with the Canon Rebel T5 I had received as a birthday present a few years prior. While an amateur at best, I slowly familiarized myself with the equipment, falling in love with the process of image making. A year later, I was applying to become a member of the Photography BFA program. Since my initial acceptance into the BFA program in spring 2018, I have endured a long and arduous journey of self-reflection and improvement. My first memories of

Pursuit 13



gh Throu

ars the Ye



Almost Beautiful

being in the program were uncomfortable, but ultimately led me to become a much better version of myself. The more I opened up about my emotions and my battle with mental illness, the stronger my work became. I discovered the joys of bookmaking, peer review, and critique. Some may even say I began enjoying it a little too much, as I even began accidentally dominating class discussions! With each class I took, every person I met and/or befriended, and each assignment I conquered, I grew into the emerging artist I am today. I owe much of my achievements both personal and professional to my time in the photography program.

Gentler Limbs

Yearning CC

Following a weeks-long depressive episode in my second to last semester of undergrad, I received the news that my semester was going to be cut short due to COVID-19. Disappointed by the cancellation of my senior exhibition in the Dorsky Museum, I took on the task of finishing my thesis from the comfort of my Schenectady bedroom. Despite any reservations I had, I somehow managed to balance working 20+ hours a week at my local Walmart with finishing all of my courses during the middle of a pandemic. Surely, a lot of people struggled, but I found my inspiration and accomplished my goals.


Elizabeth Berger Amanda Bogatka

Emily Cavanaugh Miranda Crifo Robert Cusack Mary Flanagan Taylor Gephard Alexa Guevara Shabiha Jafri Kejiayun Ke Naira Luke-Aleman Sam Mazzara Joel Olzak Paige O’Toole

Claudia Rosti Jiabin Zhao 18

Junk Drawer

Megan Reilly

___________########________________*#######* _______We are##########__________*############* _____Collectors of things###_______*###############* ___#######################___*That make us feel###* __Holding on to grudges#######_*##################* ___To Butterflies#############*###################* ____To letters###################################* ______From people who do not think about you######* ________Anymore###########################* __________To all of the things###############* ____________In your junk drawer#########* ______________####################* ________________###############* _________________###########* __________________#######* ___________________###*

Holding Onto Grudges and Butterflies





Sleeping Bag

Untitled 1, 2, 3, and 4

I am taking notes I have taken notes on how to observe to confess to acknowledge to honor The abandoned pocket in your purse Search engines The box you have in your closet that is dedicated to just letters Pink sticky notes Nicknames Thank you cards A handful of receipts and gum A diary Notes written in invisible ink All the shoes you are keeping Saved voicemai Lists



I’m Not A Boy

in your car trunk ils


Elizabeth Berger Amanda Bogatka Emily Cavanaugh

Miranda Crifo Robert Cusack Mary Flanagan Taylor Gephard Alexa Guevara Shabiha Jafri Kejiayun Ke Naira Luke-Aleman Sam Mazzara Joel Olzak Paige O’Toole

Claudia Rosti Jiabin Zhao 24


Megan Reilly

When I transferred to New Paltz, I had no intention of going into the BFA program. My plan was to get my bachelor’s in visual arts and graduate in two years. Instead, I jumped headfirst into a program I knew nothing about because I thought it would look better on my resume.


I added an extra year onto my college career, and met colleagues, friends and professors whose influence affected not only my art, but also the way I perceived art in general. Having my own studio space was just what I needed to expand my ideas and being surrounded by so many other artists was truly beneficial to my work. I was able to get the opinions of the other BFA students and they would ask for mine. Just being able to walk around the studios and see so many thoughts and processes being created in front of me was, in a sense, magical. I never expected that my art would become what it is today, especially looking back to my community college days. I can say for certain that the BFA program made me a more confident artist, a competent artist, and has left lasting marks that I will never forget.

Off-color 25


The small moments of intimacy and the intrusiveness. The taboo nature of nudity and the worship of the female form. Making intimate moments out of erotic images. Taking the concepts of porn, erotica and fine arts and combining them to create a series that cries out to be seen but is compelled to cover up.




Open Curtain



Role Play

Elizabeth Berger Amanda Bogatka Emily Cavanaugh Miranda Crifo

Robert Cusack Mary Flanagan Taylor Gephard Alexa Guevara Shabiha Jafri Kejiayun Ke Naira Luke-Aleman Sam Mazzara Joel Olzak Paige O’Toole

Claudia Rosti Jiabin Zhao 30

Quilt 2

Megan Reilly

In a disposable world everything is available, but nothing lasts. Any question is a search away, and any product can be delivered to your door and disposed of when finished. In the new paradigm of social media, it has become clear that a human’s basic need for connection cannot be fulfilled by digital interaction. Our dependence on social media only falsely fulfills our primal longing for connection. The monolithic rise of the internet has given us access to more information than ever available before. However, within this boundless jetstream of information there are minefields of distractions and unreliable sources. As digital interaction has become a main staple of our diet, the average person often feels inundated with content. As the American condition of instant pleasure and convenience breeds waste, I hope to curate this deluge of information to create something that won’t disappear into the noise, but will exhilarate this inexhaustible stream of information. In navigating themes of hyper-info and consumerism, collage and sewing have become my primary medium. I have always been drawn to the tactility of fabric and the printed image. While working at home during the COVID-19 pandemic I have focused on making machine stitched collage panels that will be incorporated into a larger quilt. Growing up, my mother’s heavily marked up calendars and agendas were some of my biggest sources of visual inspiration. The impulsive accumulation of notes on these personalized documents serves as a rich marker of time and place, and relates directly to the medium of collage. The constant editing, patterns of highlighter marks, crossing out and taping over, all communicate how images and text can be woven together to create a completely new image. I have also always been visually captivated by the artificial textures humans have imposed on the natural landscape. The mechanically woven forms of produce bags and construction fences that mimic yet destroy nature. Not only do I find the forms of these materials compelling, but the concept of the plastic object designed for the preservation of something perishable reiterates humans’ lack of a sustainable design in exchange for convenience and pleasure. With the interweaving of remnants from our physical and digital indulgence I strive to create a shrine of the present moment.

Pleasure and Convenience



Scan 6

Scan 5


Scan 7






Elizabeth Berger Amanda Bogatka Emily Cavanaugh Miranda Crifo Robert Cusack

Mary Flanagan Taylor Gephard Alexa Guevara Shabiha Jafri Kejiayun Ke Naira Luke-Aleman Sam Mazzara Joel Olzak Paige O’Toole Megan Reilly Claudia Rosti Jiabin Zhao 36

Everyone has a right to make art. In troubled times such as the ones we find ourselves in now we need to cherish the things that bring value, beauty, and understanding to an ever-struggling world. My work is constructed rather than created; I find my place balancing chaos and control. I seek to familiarize myself with shapes, colors, and lines that attract me. Through this process I make sense of the things I see around me everyday. By extracting and reorganizing, I can relate my experiences to others in the hopes of bringing unity to the ever-chaotic world around us.





Power Lines



Chaos 40


Elizabeth Berger Amanda Bogatka

Robert Cusack Mary Flanagan

Taylor Gephard Alexa Guevara

Buddha Bitch 2

Miranda Crifo

Buddha Bitch 1

Emily Cavanaugh

Shabiha Jafri Kejiayun Ke Naira Luke-Aleman Sam Mazzara Joel Olzak Paige O’Toole Megan Reilly Claudia Rosti Jiabin Zhao 42

Buddha Bitches is a series based on Buddhism, self-love, and the enlightenment gained from accepting one’s self. With this ongoing series, these sculptures represent the female body in reference to Buddha and the Venus of Willendorf: a bulbous, imperfect body that society deems as ugly. The gold flowing represents the enlightenment process, how love comes from the inside and flows outwards. Please feel free to sit next to them and relax, as these sculptures are from a part of me, a creation of my own Mother, who has made the lotuses you see.

Buddha Bitch 3

Buddha Bitches 43


Buddha Bitch 4


Buddha Bitch 5

Lessons from Gandalf My Grandfather once said to me, amid the 2020 Pandemic, “This too shall pass.” Besides thinking of him as perhaps Gandalf, from Lord of the Rings, his words did truly resonate with me. My entire course through college (five years) was an up and down rollercoaster. I lost many things, friend groups, family members, my gallbladder, and maybe even a few brain cells, but through the entirety, there was much to make up for it. I screwed up a lot during college, but I also found myself and my good friends that I still have. I found what I wanted to do in life, and changed majors two other times, and debated on many more. But strangely enough, I found my prior majors to be perhaps fated for me to learn in for a time. I was a wildlife major at first, and learned extensive knowledge about animals, touched them, studied them, failed a few fish tests, smelled like formaldehyde, but I still learned. This led me, after a traumatic experience with spinning a deer’s head off, to Graphic Design, where I dabbled in Adobe products and learned how much Comic Sans makes me angry. But behind that, I made friends, who were also in Graphic Design, that led me through it, and guided me back into art. I decided then, that I needed to go back into my childhood roots: Sculpture. Sculpture was complicated at first. I felt like an outcast, though I am sure I outcasted myself, too. But to be honest, I was extremely depressed, because I lost friends precious to me and I was betrayed by someone special to me. I also transferred and lost all my prior friends from my other college and found it difficult to resonate with anyone. I also fell deeply ill from my gallbladder deciding to not work, and it was a year long process to figure that out. I also hated moldmaking and casting at first and was absolutely terrible at it. But now, I am a moldmaker and caster for professional artists and make a good decent side check from selling my products. Quite the irony. Though by the end, through my online friends, and also getting therapy, medication, and begging my surgeon to let me keep my gallbladder (this did not work, by the way), I eventually became better—though a pandemic did not quite end everything as nicely as I wished it to be… All in all, This Too Shall Pass. My lessons to you, dear reader, are to not take the friends you make for granted, especially those college friends, who you may lose or keep for the rest of your life. And to value the mistakes and failed tests you did, because they will help you learn so much better than any A+ grade will ever give you. Things will Pass, even the good things, but do not worry, there will always be more! If you have depression, it will pass too. Take baby steps. I know it is hard to, but the smallest progress can make big changes. On a side note: please don’t do surgery in the middle of a semester, a month before the COVID-19 outbreak started. Terrible, terrible idea. In the end of my five years, I learned who I really am and who I want to be, and that all led me to my thesis. I know that anyone can do the same, especially if they listen to Grandpa Gandalf.



Buddha Bitch 6

Ed Felton Interviews Taylor Gephard EF: When did you first identify as an artist? TG: I remember starting art when I was super young, pretty much right when I was born. I always made mini clay sculptures out of oil clay, toothpicks, and tin foil to cover plastic figurines I had of Pokemon. But I do not remember identifying as an artist until I actually hit college and started doing commissions and selling stuff. I’ve always had self-doubt in my abilities, still do, but my entire life has been about art, nothing else. It took me a very long time to realize I had a bit of something I can do talentwise. EF: What earliest influences aimed you toward the visual arts? TG: It has to be my college friends I made when I was a wildlife major. I was a wildlife major at first because I really enjoy animals, and wanted to become an ornithologist. All of my friends that I made in a club were Graphic Design majors, and it was only me and one other girl who were different. They told me about all the fun stuff they’d done while in Graphic Design, the teachers, the classes, and even let me see the mac labs and what they were up to. It got to the point where I was fed up and frustrated with failing all these wildlife classes and saw some traumatic things and experienced some cruel people in the major that I switched out. My family also questioned me as to why I wasn’t doing art either and thought I was crazy for going into wildlife. Eventually, Graphic Design got too simple and too nitpicky for me so I decided to transfer and pursue things in Sculpture. 48

EF: What aspect or aspects of your SUNY New Paltz experience impacted your work as an artist the most? TG: I think it has to be the teachers that I’ve worked with. Andrew Woolbright, Michael Asbill, and Emily Puthoff have particularly impacted me to an extreme. They’d let me sit down with them and have these talks, and flower these ideas and help me clarify a lot. They were not only there for me to teach me, they were there as family and friends. They cared about all aspects and were willing to go out of their way for you, as their student. When I was clearly depressed, they’d check up on me, or if something was up medically, they were extremely forgiving. That forgiveness, that effort to try to understand me has really put a lot of confidence into my artwork and myself. They also made me defend my place in art and defend my art, which helped me speak up about the message I wish to convey. I don’t have to be perfect, drawing the most realistic thing, or sculpting the most beautiful work ever. I can just do what I wish to do. They also dealt with a lot of strange ideas, and frogs. EF: Has your experience at SUNY New Paltz affected your relationship to art? TG: In some aspects, yes. It helped me gain more of a focused ideal of what I want to do in art and taught me how to clarify ideas more. Additionally, I learned more about politics, people, and more left-wing related things and views. I grew up more in a right-wing setting, so it truly opened my eyes to a lot of problems the world faces that I want to discuss in art. I have a clearer sight to my artwork now, and know how to do much more in an efficient manner.

EF: What was the most unexpected part of your experience at SUNY New Paltz? TG: Probably the pandemic and actually getting surgery in the middle of a semester. My gallbladder decided to only work at 13% efficiency and I had several gallbladder attacks that sent me to the hospital during the semester. I thought that was pretty inconvenient but a pandemic takes the cake. EF: What impact would you like your work to have on people or on the world? TG: Overall, the simple goal of mine is to make people happy looking at my art. I really do like when I can make people smile and enjoy my art, hence my doodle page about frogs, Mildly Disappointed Frogs. But I also like being relatable to people the most, and it does not have to be everyone, it can just be to women, or to people who have anxiety. I like the feeling of letting someone know that there is another like them, facing similar problems, and that they are not alone.

TG: Always the goal has been to freelance and live off of my artwork. But I really want to dabble into making monster makeup with silicone faces and prosthetics, and maybe work at Headless Horseman someday, either as an actor, makeup artist, or prop sculptor. I love horror, I love monsters, I love creating monsters. I was hoping to get with Emily Puthoff so she can cast my face and I can practice on myself, but then the pandemic hit. I was also thinking into starting to craft video game props, like weapons, to sell on an etsy store page. The plans are a little delayed, but I have hope! For now, I’m working on my small art page, Mildly Disappointed Frogs, and experimenting with different mediums using that as an outlet and inspiration. I’m hoping in the future to do some watercolors and donate some of the profits to charity. I am also planning to start crafting packers for trans-men to help them out, and expand more into helping the LGBTQ+ community with my skills in sculpting and casting.

The long term goal is to make people uncomfortable and unsettled when looking at other pieces of my specific artwork. I plan to focus more on sexuality, fetishes, bodies, etc. All the lovely Freudian goodness. EF: What are your next steps? Or what would you like your practice as an artist to look like five years from now?


Elizabeth Berger Amanda Bogatka Emily Cavanaugh Miranda Crifo Robert Cusack Mary Flanagan Taylor Gephard

Alexa Guevara Shabiha Jafri Kejiayun Ke

The process of applying for citizenship requires years, if not decades, of waiting and has steep financial barriers to families fleeing hardships. Today, April 24 2020, marks the day that my father has been in this country for 27 years, 10 months, and 24 days. The process of being documented is long and does not follow a straight path. There are multiple applications that build up over time. These documents along with archive photos are a testament to the legal application. My family now serves as validation for my father, alongside the millions of others who are in this country, living normal lives, and collecting these papers.

Naira Luke-Aleman Sam Mazzara Joel Olzak Paige O’Toole Megan Reilly Claudia Rosti Jiabin Zhao 50

27 years, 10 months, and 24

4 days 51



Throughout this process of creating my senior thesis I feel fortunate to have found my identity as an artist and to have discovered a new confidence in myself. The community I have been able to build with other photographers like myself has been the best part of this experience. The process of creating a thesis show is no clear path, but having a space where it’s okay to give hard feedback, to discuss and to push each other, has been the best part of this journey. I thank all of those who helped me along the way. Finishing this experience online was very different than what we all anticipated and I know I struggled with it. I was not able to accomplish what I wanted to, making it still feel very unfinished. Despite the obstacles that have come up, I’ve found growth in identifying with my art and making progress on this body of work that has more to come.




Ed Felton Interviews Alexa Guevara EF: When did you first identify as an artist? AG: I was always really interested in art. It was always something I loved, but I saw myself becoming an art teacher rather than an artist. But I made the decision to go to school for visual arts. When I got there and started creating and being part of the art community, that’s when I started to see myself as an artist. EF: What earliest influences aimed you toward the visual arts? AG: I feel very fortunate to have had excellent teachers starting at a young age. My high school had an amazing art program. I was fortunate enough to have a darkroom there. That became an outlet for me to express myself. I was a very quiet person and that became a way for me to figure out who I was. I began to look at the world in a different way, and it just grew from there. EF: What aspect or aspects of your SUNY New Paltz experience impacted your work as an artist the most? AG: The entire experience. I transferred into SUNY New Paltz my junior year. When I got there, I knew I wanted to go for the Photo BFA. I submitted my portfolio, and I saw that I wasn’t on the same level as everyone else. But I immediately felt welcomed by an amazing community of artists that helped me to push myself harder. EF: Has your experience at SUNY New Paltz affected your relationship to art? AG: Being in a community of people with the same goal was a real game changer for me. At my previous college I commuted, so I never had those close bonds with other students and professors. The level of connection really changed a lot for me because I was able to see my

art through the feedback and critique of people who knew me and my work. It helped validate that being there as an art major was what I was meant to be doing. EF: What was the most unexpected part of your experience at SUNY New Paltz? AG: I knew it was going to be a lot of work, but it was really a lot of work. I wouldn’t say it was completely unexpected, but it was really challenging. There were a lot of late nights working, but it was all worth it. EF: What impact would you like your work to have on people or on the world? AG: Through my thesis work specifically, I wanted people to acknowledge the situation of others like me, growing up with a non-citizen, immigrant parent. The paperwork and the process of everything that goes along with it is so stressful and it builds up so much over time. Growing up, going outside the bubble that I knew, I started to realize that lots of other people couldn’t relate to this experience. So my book, 27 years, 10 months, and 14 days, shows a portion of the experience and hopefully can be educational in regard to the amount of work and the toll of the process. EF: What are your next steps? What would you like your practice as an artist to look like five years from now? AG: I don’t really know what my next steps are, but I am working to find a job in the arts. I still very much identify as a photographer, but I also see myself as a designer now. I’ve really enjoyed being able to design my thesis book, and to craft it. I don’t know if that’s what I’ll be doing five years from now, but if I look back five years, I never thought that I’d be where I am now, so I’m excited to take things as they come to me and see where I end up.


Elizabeth Berger Amanda Bogatka Emily Cavanaugh Miranda Crifo

My mother’s death has left a growing absence in my home and in my heart. Her diagnosis of a grade III brain tumor destroyed her mind and body. Her presence still lingers in small pieces: her bed, her clothes, her photographs. Her clothes are the strongest pieces of her identity; they are the only part of her that never changed. Cyanotypes of my mother’s MRI brain scans are hand sewn onto her clothes to document the specimen that invaded her body. I confront and acknowledge the new version of herself I never wanted to accept as reality.

Robert Cusack Mary Flanagan Taylor Gephard Alexa Guevara

Shabiha Jafri Kejiayun Ke

I am desperately trying to latch onto all my memories of her, from the mother I grew up with to the woman who forgot who she was. I am afraid of her disappearing from my mind. This is my attempt to bring her presence back into my life before I forget her.

Naira Luke-Aleman Sam Mazzara Joel Olzak Paige O’Toole Megan Reilly Claudia Rosti Jiabin Zhao 58

Shazia, I Pray You Are Recovering



Specimen 1


Grasping Onto A Memory

Specimen 2


Afternoon Tea

The cancellation of this semesters’ BFA thesis shows due to COVID- 19 was really disappointing, knowing how hard everyone worked. But I am still so proud of all the BFA students and everything we accomplished, even if we didn’t get the chance to showcase our efforts to the public. I am especially proud and grateful for my fellow Photo BFA graduates, who really felt like a second family as we all came together to survive the uncertainties of this semester. Their feedback and support really impacted the final outcome of my thesis. There were many moments I felt insane staying up all night for multiple nights on end just to finish everything to the best of my ability, but I am proud of what I was able to accomplish, given the circumstances. Most of all, I am grateful for my mother, who always cheered me on and supported my desire to pursue photography when others didn’t. I owe her everything.



Specimen 3

Elizabeth Berger Amanda Bogatka Emily Cavanaugh Miranda Crifo Robert Cusack Mary Flanagan Taylor Gephard Alexa Guevara Shabiha Jafri

Kejiayun Ke Naira Luke-Aleman Sam Mazzara Joel Olzak Paige O’Toole Megan Reilly

Jiabin Zhao 64


Claudia Rosti



I create jewelry and objects to record personal narratives, making permanent the memory of past experience. By selecting symbolic materials—hair, glass, seeds, and pearls—and carefully capturing them into protective containers, I quietly elicit emotions and associations. These intimate lockets exhibit clear distinctions between interior and exterior, inviting interaction from the audience and provoking them to handle, discover, and recall their own private stories. While memory can deviate, be forgetful, or be altered, these physical objects serve as visceral reminders.




Pearl In My Heart




Elizabeth Berger Amanda Bogatka Emily Cavanaugh Miranda Crifo Robert Cusack Mary Flanagan Taylor Gephard Alexa Guevara

Lowe’s Petals She’s not mad at me, she just needs something to be mad at. I stop listening when I look in her eyes and all I see is fear. It’s the same desperate eyes I see on my roommate when she facetimes her family, The same hopeless look I see in passing windows. I tell her, soullessly, to have a nice day, as she stomps off with the flowers I wouldn’t give her a discount on. Before I call for the next customer, my eyes get stuck on a little spot in front of me. As I look down, it seems like she’s managed to shake off one of the petals. Now it sits before me, alone. Without much thought, I sweep it away quickly in my pocket. Before long, I notice myself picking up all the fallen flower petals on my down time. Grasping at fallen petals in carts, bending underneath displays, picking them up from my morning sweep. All of these petals did exactly what they were supposed to do. They got through the cloudy days, and grew in the sun, They blossomed just when they were supposed to.

Shabiha Jafri

But they won’t get the chance to be in front of someone’s front lawn. To be admired by the sun that grew them, to seep their colors into passing eyes

Kejiayun Ke

So I hold them in my pocket, And wait until I find something to do with them, Before they wilt away.

Naira Luke-Aleman Sam Mazzara Joel Olzak Paige O’Toole Megan Reilly Claudia Rosti Jiabin Zhao 70

I decided to share some prints and handmade paper that I felt represented my work best. The poem captures how I felt during the first few months of the pandemic, when I started working full time at Lowe’s. Though the prints and the poem may not relate directly, I really wanted to share them together. When I look at my prints now, I think of home. Not a physical space, but home as an emotion. While the end product is of course valuable, I believe printmaking is much more about the process. Problem solving to try and figure out how many layers go next, that’s home. Cleaning up after a night of screen printing, that’s home. Shrugging your shoulders at inevitable misregistration, that’s home. There’s a warmth in the collaborative practice that is printmaking, a shared space for mishaps and miracles. I hope you’re incredibly proud of what we’ve created, whether it be new work or old work. I hope you’ve found a home within your art. I hope you’ve found use for your fallen petals.


Home 1, Handmade paper, red string, photo


Home 2, Handmade paper, red string, photo


Home 3, Handmade paper, red string, photo


Perdon, Silkscreen and blind embossment

I mean, you’re not wrong, Silkscreen


Sofia, Silkscreen


Elizabeth Berger Amanda Bogatka Emily Cavanaugh Miranda Crifo Robert Cusack Mary Flanagan Taylor Gephard Alexa Guevara Shabiha Jafri Kejiayun Ke

There exists, in all of us, an innate human desire for reason. Any evidence of the order we seek, however, is limited to what we can gather from our own experience. Great frustration follows when we become aware of the indifference of the world to this yearning, what Albert Camus called “the Absurd.” This unreasonable silence can be overwhelming, but it is accompanied by immense freedom; it is a relief from the burden of responsibility we impose on ourselves to meet societal demands, to satisfy expectations. By making permanent the frequent, if fleeting, moments where the world reveals itself to be much stranger than it may initially appear, I create unrelenting reminders of the absurdity of the world and, in turn, of the immeasurable freedom that we all have in our constant confrontation with our own obscurity.

Naira Luke-Aleman

Sam Mazzara Joel Olzak Paige O’Toole Megan Reilly Claudia Rosti Jiabin Zhao 76

A Light Shining in Darkness






The overwhelming majority of people have an instinctual desire to understand and to be understood. Without understanding there is no growth, no way to move forward; the world stagnates, becomes a breeding ground for pests and disease. I have always had extreme difficulty, be it real or imagined, to articulate myself in a way such that people can understand my words and intentions. Whether it is in the work that I make or the things that I say, I have never let myself be understood. A Light Shining in Darkness is a part of my effort to do so.


There is an important clarification I feel I should make: with this work I make no assertions, only observations. When bearing witness to these instances where the world reveals itself for what it really is, I make no intervention. Any attempt to do so would be necessarily futile. In Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea, the protagonist-narrator, Antoine Roquentin, is afflicted with the same awareness, leaving him with what he calls “the Nausea.” One of Roquentin’s most troubling experiences with this Nausea unfolds on a tram:


“ I lean my hand on the seat but pull it back hurriedly: it exists. This thing I’m sitting on, leaning my hand on, is called a seat. They made it purposely for people to sit on, they took leather, springs and cloth, they went to work with the idea of making a seat and when they finished, that was what they had made. They carried it here, into this car and the car is now rolling and jolting with it’s rattling windows,

carrying this red thing in it’s bosom. I murmur: ‘It’s a seat,’ a little like an exorcism. But the word stays on my lips: it refuses to go and put itself on the thing. It stays what it is…”

My observations are based on very similar perceptions. It is admittedly very easy to experience the world through conventions and notions of meaning, purpose, and function that we fabricate and project onto it. However, when these frameworks are distorted, discarded, or otherwise interrupted, we see things for what they really are; it’s concerning and difficult to return from.

“There is a false saying: ‘How can someone who can’t save himself save others?’ Supposing I have the key to your chains, why should your lock and my lock be the same?”


My actions and their consequences have instilled in me an inability to connect; to my environment, with people on an individual level, with myself. With these photographs I am negotiating how to love the world and myself; I am trying to let myself be understood. I am designing the framework for the passages through which I will navigate the rift between reality and my perception of it. I need to understand; I want to be understood. Now, one might understandably wonder how someone who is, by their own account, out of touch with reality reveal anything about it to another; Friedrich Nietzsche responded to this inquiry when he wrote:


Ed Felton Interviews Sam Mazarra EF: When did you first identify as an artist? What earliest influences aimed you toward the visual arts? SM: I don’t think I actually identified as an artist until very recently, probably just this past fall semester. My first experience with artistic expression was when I was in high school. In early high school I found my dad’s old camera equipment in the closet, and immediately, without knowing what anything was or how anything worked, I was drawn to it. I was like: “Can you show me how to use this? This is something I want to do.” It took a while but even before he was able to sit down and introduce me to the equipment, I was carrying the camera around all the time and looking through everything. So, that was my first experience with what you’re describing, but I only considered myself a photographer, an artist, very recently, because I realized how much work I had to do that whole time. I never thought of myself in relation to being an artist, I was just doing what I was gonna do. EF: What aspect or aspects of your SUNY New Paltz experience impacted your work as an artist the most? SM: The faculty and my peers in the Photography Department. If I hadn’t come to school here for photography, I wouldn’t have gotten to the point I feel I’ve reached. Also, the negative experiences that I’ve put myself through did a lot to shape my relationship with the camera and with my surroundings. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I always had my camera with me, and I was always photographing, regardless of what the circumstances were, even if they were less than desirable. It was only after I 82

sort of… was able to remove myself from those people and those circumstances that I had put myself in, that I realized how my relationship with and what I was doing with the camera had changed. I tried to deny it for a while I think, because it was unfortunate to think about in general, but it only makes sense that those sorts of experiences would have a profound impact on the way I express myself creatively. EF: What was the most unexpected part of your experience at SUNY New Paltz? SM: Definitely the overwhelming support I received from the faculty and my peers in the Photography Department. Last spring semester, and the fall semester that followed, I was getting a lot of support, a lot of encouragement, I felt for the first time that people really believed in what I was doing. I was making a lot of work, and it was better than what I had been making. It was obvious that something had changed. Having all that support that I really needed, that I would never have anticipated needing—and because of that, I would never have expected to receive—that was really important. EF: What impact would you like your work to have on people or on the world? SM: I would love to facilitate a change in the way people see things and the way people interact with their environment. That’s what most of my work is about, especially in talking about my thesis work: the obscurity and vagueness of everything and how our surroundings and experiences are not nearly as predetermined as a lot of people make them out to be. And, my experience has drastically shifted the way that I think about

those sorts of things. My primary objective is to get people to see things differently, to sort of take some pressure off of people. That’s what my goal is, to change for the better the way that people consider their environment and their surroundings. EF: That question also makes me think of the current uprising that’s going on around racial justice issues. I’ve been thinking about the role that artists play, particularly photographers, using the camera to tell stories or represent events.

creative process. I try to make something every day, or read something every day, or watch an interview, just to keep my practice going. The little things that we can do daily, I believe, are the things that have the greatest tangible effects on the long term. It feels really good to have someone offer you a job, or approach you and ask for work for an exhibition, or buy a print or something, but realistically, especially at this point in our careers, those things don’t happen that frequently. They feel really good when they do happen, they’re great things, but we can’t rely on those things to keep us going. If we do, we’ll get demotivated really quickly. The important thing is to keep the practice going.

SM: I’ve always had strong feelings about racial justice, police brutality, economic inequality, but I’ve never felt personally like I was in a position to tell the stories of people of color through my camera. It’s one thing to work very closely with someone on an individual level, to tell a story that you’re part of, but for white people to go to protests and marches, and to be liberal with their use of the camera, capturing what they think looks good, or what they think are the images that tell the story, that requires some serious thinking. Photography is a powerful medium, so you have to work really hard to get those kinds of things right. EF: What are your next steps? Or what would you like your practice as an artist to look like 5 years from now? SM: As far as my next steps, I’m dealing with situations as they arise, taking advantage of opportunities as they arise, and doing everything I can to make opportunities for myself. Not necessarily employment opportunities, but opportunities to make things, just to make work. It’s hard to identify a distinct set of steps that I need to take to make that happen, but on a daily basis, I try to do something every day that’s related to my 83

Elizabeth Berger Amanda Bogatka Emily Cavanaugh Miranda Crifo Robert Cusack Mary Flanagan Taylor Gephard Alexa Guevara Shabiha Jafri Kejiayun Ke Naira Luke-Aleman Sam Mazzara

Joel Olzak Paige O’Toole Megan Reilly Claudia Rosti Jiabin Zhao 84

How does what we make change when we don’t have electric tools? In an age of uncertainty when we may experience environmental disaster, how do we band together to make the things we need to survive, in a world where we are not able to use electricity? What are the technologies we need to continue? Through communityfocused building, and old woodworking techniques, A Gathering Table is an attempt to find the way we used to construct our lived environments, and learn whatever useful things we can from it. The goal of this table is to provide a physical place to discuss how we move forward as a culture—away from mass-produced consumerism and wasteful, non-ecological practices. As we weather the crises of today, only by coming together (safely) as a community can we hope to change the world for the better.

A Gathering Table 85

“The intent of living without destroying the Earth” I have been poring over, in my mind, these past few weeks, how it would be possible to live—if not ethically—at least as ethically as feasible. I don’t wish to shut myself out from the world, living out the classical male power fantasy of being a “frontiersman, totally self reliant” (except you know, for the tools and goods made by others that they relied on). I’m trying to learn how to live with little carbon impact, generating little to no plastic waste, living off the land whenever possible. And I want to function within a community doing the same. Doing so is obviously not easy within our current system. Doing so perfectly is near impossible without living totally ascetically. It would be stupid to throw out thousands of years of medical advancements. Difficult to live-work without access to the internet. The idea is not to remove the pleasures from life, but to shift, from a mass-produced culture, to a more local one. Taking more pleasure in the experiences nature has to offer us. Working with our hands, and working together in our communities. It is easy to dismiss this all as a utopian dream, after all, haven’t back-to-the-land movements failed every time? Haven’t they broken apart, been treated as a fad, everyone eventually going their separate ways back to “real life”? Even if that is true, the devastation we are wreaking on the earth is far and away unsustainable. Our children, if we feel morally responsible enough to have children, may not be able to enjoy any of the comforts we have now.


But I digress from my point: What can I do? How can I live My Life, in a way that encourages such a way of living? The first thing is shelter: we need it to survive. We need a way of building houses that doesn’t employ harsh chemicals, or have a high carbon footprint (for example, concrete is one of the largest contributors to climate change, accounting for 8% of CO2 emissions in 2015). Wood is my prefered choice, because it is actually a carbon sink. Where possible, it can be secured locally, and sustainably. It can be worked by a skilled hand, with relatively few tools. It can be used in traditional timber framing, and in cordwood masonry, to create homes and outbuildings. This is why I’m so interested in wood: it sustained us for tens of thousands of years; some buildings still standing today are many hundreds of years old. Additionally, trees are useful for more than building and fuel. An orchard can also supply us not only with the fruits we think of, apples and the like—but also with sustenance in the forms of walnuts, pecans, chestnuts, as well as carob, and maple sugars. So, there is a house, the beginning of sustenance. A woodstove to keep warm and cook on. Bees for honey and wax, an excellent waterproofing agent. A garden, so you can have vegetables, a cannery—mason jars, for winter sustenance. Animals you raise yourself, for whatever meats you want, as well as eggs, and particularly important: sheep for wool, an excellent natural insulator, and clothing. This is hardly compatible with veganism, sadly, especially in a cold climate. But I would rather have to slaughter animals humanely, than create plastics that will make it impossible for animals to live at all on this planet. There is spinning wool into thread and yarn,



making and repairing clothes. There are horses, for low-carbon-emission local transportation. With any luck, there are electric trains for those wanting to visit far away friends. And there are creature comforts, for a while anyway. Solar panels, powering lighting, an electric stove maybe, a refrigerator. A television, for the times nothing else needs tending to, used most often in winter. Maybe the world starts recycling electronics properly and we don’t have to worry so much about using them, buying new ones every three years or so, contributing to the mining of the earth and proliferation of waste in the world. There is a partner, who you split your work with, evenly, according to each other’s skills. Perhaps one works in wood, the other in sewing, or gardening, or you both garden and one of you focuses on preserving. Egalitarianism is the ultimate goal—the only ethical way to live. You care for each other. You are practical. You celebrate how you can do so much from relatively little. You have a system. There is a community—it is difficult to specialize into every possible thing. There is a blacksmith, tailor, beekeeper, brewer, distiller, dyer, woodworker, potter, baker, and farmers. There are many people, living with each other, helping each other. Bartering, trading, living. There are doctors, importantly. All people need medical care. While this may not work on a grand scale, hopefully we will at least choose to have fewer children, to reduce earth’s population naturally, to one that is sustainable. Hopefully we will figure out that we cannot exist apart from the earth, but that we are a part of it. Hopefully us westerners will act like it, for the first time in centuries. And I hope we will not do this too late.


Elizabeth Berger Amanda Bogatka Emily Cavanaugh Miranda Crifo Robert Cusack Mary Flanagan Taylor Gephard Alexa Guevara Shabiha Jafri Kejiayun Ke Naira Luke-Aleman Sam Mazzara Joel Olzak

Paige O’Toole Megan Reilly Claudia Rosti Jiabin Zhao 90

Ornate I greatly admire decoration. When wandering through art galleries I am most intrigued by the work that surrounds the work. The history of art is told through a history of images. Photographic reproductions used in art history education almost always exclude the frame or the architectural context in which the art was intended to be seen, thus altering our perception of any given piece. I want decorative objects, like the frame, the pedestal, and the wallpaper, to be understood as primary rather than secondary. I use craft material to reference the supplemental status of decoration in art history. I make the work in terra cotta, a material that plays an integral role in the history of ornament. Clay is malleable, which allows for the mark of the hand to express the rhythm and motion that is echoed in decoration. Every piece begins with the rendering of a frame corner, and from there each layer is built through the addition of coils, that then morph and adapt to fit the movement of the new object. The objects I create feel familiar but have no discernible identity. While craft is not synonymous with the decorative, the two function as supplemental in art theory. The anonymity in the work highlights our perceptions of craft; the expectant notion that the craftsperson, like the frame, draws no attention to itself, yet they both occupy the space of decoration.


The work is hand built in terra cotta. I use clay because of its position as a craft medium, in an attempt to further the narrative addressed in the work. I use terra-cotta because of its historical relation to decoration. From its use in ancient pottery to architectural facades to red clay bole used in Medieval and Renaissance gilding, terra-cotta as a material has played an integral role within the history decorative arts. I don’t start with a specific outcome in mind. I prefer to build progressively, intuitively responding to the material. I construct using both hands in order to successfully work symmetrically. The process begins with the rendering of a frame corner, and from there each layer is built through the addition of coils, that then morph and adapt to fit the movement of the sculpture. It is a repetitive process that transforms in rhythm with every pinch. In terms of composition I think a lot about drapery, how an incredible mass can feel weightless when fabric effortlessly clings to a form creating a beautiful emphasis on light and shadow. I especially consider that which is referenced in ancient greek sculpture and later repeated in renaissance sculpture. The movement that is captured in the rendering of these sculptures is what I attempt to recreate, when considering the overall form of the free standing sculptural works. I seek to create dichotomies of surface within the work, smooth and rough, matte and satin; this is accomplished through the use of terra sigilliata. This surface allows the viewer to place the work in the context of craft. The works sit on their own pedestals. I created these pedestals by flipping an initial sculpture (figure 7) upside-down, and from there I start the blueprint for the larger portion of the work. Building in parts has allowed me to create larger, more manageable works.





Elizabeth Berger Amanda Bogatka Emily Cavanaugh Miranda Crifo Robert Cusack Mary Flanagan Taylor Gephard Alexa Guevara Shabiha Jafri Kejiayun Ke Naira Luke-Aleman Sam Mazzara Joel Olzak

Megan Reilly Claudia Rosti Jiabin Zhao 96

Hill on Hurds Road

Paige O’Toole


I am held to my surroundings by my shaking fingers and the smell of exhaust drifting in the air next to me. What I can see, hear, smell, and touch brings me to the exact time and place of where I am standing. The constant awareness of human life outside of my viewpoint quiets down enough for me to appreciate the hum of a single fluorescent light. I can accept this as the present. I wish to hold onto the feeling of breaking out of mindlessly going about life for as long as I am able, but once the wind stops hitting my face I am no longer capable of distinguishing my interactions with the world from one another. What makes the company of the present so intimate is its entanglement with the future and the past. The present is a moment of simultaneous reflection within what has happened and what is to come. But now what is to come has been decided. Human existence is collapsing from the inside out as a byproduct of its own making. I am playing God in what I choose to make an image of, whether that be making that very moment everlasting or to predict a demise in rendition to judgment day. I photograph the world as it lays around me to give myself an illusion of control and process an end to the human race. I am mourning the present I know I will soon long for.

A Deal with God 97


Nevele Grand Resort


Left: Tivoli, NY Right: Faith


Winterville, GA


Evening Fire, Athens, GA

Elizabeth Berger Amanda Bogatka Emily Cavanaugh Miranda Crifo Robert Cusack Mary Flanagan Taylor Gephard Alexa Guevara Shabiha Jafri

Naira Luke-Aleman Sam Mazzara Joel Olzak Paige O’Toole Megan Reilly

Claudia Rosti Jiabin Zhao 102

Forest Fire, Oil on Canvas, 15” x 30”

Kejiayun Ke

The Fires of 2019

My landscape imagery reflects both subtly and blatantly the duality of nature’s awesome majesty and the tragic erosive effects of human selfishness. I was profoundly affected by horrific scenes of billions of helpless animals traumatized and destroyed by human carelessness in the California and Australia fires. Some of my paintings focus on the crisis of environmental devastation occurring to our universal home. Others reflect the beauty of the world we live in when we stop and catch a moment’s glimpse. Now with the isolating demands of the latest threat to humanity, Coronavirus, we are halted in our usual hurried pace. We must not continue to turn our habitual blind eye, but look with new perspective. Our universe is changing at an exponentially increasing pace. If we do not socially, environmentally and universally keep up, or better yet, get ahead, we/our humanity, will fail, and the universe will continue without us.


Older student returned to school to complete BFA started decades ago: Great apprehension first semester, challenged to keep up with much younger classmates. Only started painting a few months prior to admission. What is ‘good enough?’ First day first class approached by another student, introduced herself with a huge smile, thought I was the professor. Must have a sense of humor about presence in college.

Accepted into the BFA painting program, oil painting had become my artistic love in just two semesters. Other students admitted into BFA had become painting heroes, a fairly cohesive group of buddies, helping each other. Anxious to finish but wanting this never to end. Finishing college during the start of the Coronavirus pandemic: Torn away from fellow students, no physical thesis exhibition, no long awaited physical graduation, anticlimactic, without anticipated closure. Where do we go from here? Thrown and dispersed out into the art world, tripping over untied shoelaces. Feeling disconnected from others. Only the internet connects us, for those who know how. Where do we go from here? Way too early to tell. But we must keep making art.


Crows Caught in Australia’s 2019 Fires, Oil on Canvas, 15” x 30”

Greatest initial challenge: computer usage, knew only the basics. In tears when faced with huge computer challenge in art class. Kelsey put her arm around me, ‘we’ will get through this together. She has become a very dear friend.


Kangaroos Caught in Australia’s 2019 Fires, Oil on Canvas, 15” x 30”


Then They Shook Hands: Boy Saved Kangaroo Caught in Australia’s 2019 Fires, Oil on Canvas, 15” x 30”

Koala Caught in Australia’s 2019 Fires, Oil on Canvas, 36” x 42”


Ed Felton Interviews Claudia Rosti EF: When did you first identify as an artist? CR: I think I was born to be an artist. My parents were commercial artists, so I grew up in the art world in and around New York City, in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. I was raised in the midst of continuous art production. My parents had a huge studio where I grew up in Brewster, NY. I helped them a lot with metal work, woodwork, glass work, enameling, on many of their commercial projects. I first went to college hoping to become an art teacher. But for a variety of reasons I got waylaid by a 30-plus year career as a registered nurse. After retiring, awakened by a life-threatening bout with cancer, I knew I had to return to the art world. I began painting in watercolor painting classes with artist Betsy Jacaruso, in Rhinebeck, NY. Recognizing I actually had talent for painting, I decided to surround myself further with other artists and finish my art degree. In seeking an art school, I went back to my original college, Towson University, in Maryland. A professor there suggested I look at New Paltz, saying “That’s a really great art school, you should check it out.” Since my daughter had graduated from New Paltz several years before, we thought, OK, we’ll take a look. Seeing a faculty exhibition at the Dorsky as well as student work on the walls of Smiley and FAB, I knew I would love the New Paltz Art program and the community of faculty and students. EF: What aspect or aspects of your SUNY New Paltz experience impacted your work as an artist the most? CR: I started out very tentatively, very hesitantly. I had only been painting for about a year before I got to New Paltz and had not been creating much artwork other than weaving for many, many years. So, I really didn’t know how my ability would fit into the art school, whether any of my work would be valid, valued or valuable, whether I 108

could proceed at all. What I found were professors who were very, very supportive and helpful. Numerous times I got help from other students. One time in particular, in my first semester, I was faced with a computer project that I could not figure out how to even begin. When almost in tears, a fellow student put her arm around me and said, “We’ll get through this class together.” She helped me all semester, and we’ve been very good friends ever since. What I found at New Paltz was a very helpful learning environment with students who responded to me as one their age peers. I found professors who did not single me out for being an older adult student. I was viewed as one among many, which I really appreciated. I did challenge several of my professors on a few occasions, but they gracefully accepted my opinions from my advanced lifetime experiences. EF: Has your experience at SUNY New Paltz affected your relationship to art? CR: Oh yes, absolutely! My experience at New Paltz helped me fall in love with painting, especially oil painting. This experience has enabled, encouraged and advanced me to be a practicing artist. It gave me the foundational tools and experience to move forward in terms of art production. I spent many hours painting, every day, every week, semester after semester, painting. Once in the BFA program, my own studio space on campus became my haven. I could paint for hours, with fellow BFAs doing the same. We all helped and encouraged each other. My SUNY New Paltz experience has helped me to step back into the art world, in a way I never really expected, in a way that will truly help me to continue as an artist to develop my artwork. I’m intending to spend the rest of my life painting. If I sell paintings, I sell paintings, if I don’t, I don’t, but I intend to focus my energy on my art. EF: What was the most unexpected part of your experience at SUNY New Paltz? CR: In one of my classes, I think it was a thematic drawing class,

I started hand creating images of plants that I had pressed, dried, painted, and hand printed. One of the students came over to me and said, “You should be taking a printmaking class!” I had no idea what that was. She took me over to see the Printmaking studio and I absolutely loved what I saw: an impressively well-equipped studio that looked like a really fun place to make art. I totally didn’t expect that. I took a couple of printmaking classes and loved the process. Printmaking is definitely going to become part of my practice. Another unexpected experience was … well, I hadn’t done any of that or used power tools in a long time. I found out that the SUNY NP Wood Studio was available for us to utilize and that Ed Felton was giving a demonstration for making frames. I couldn’t afford to pay anyone to frame my paintings, so I jumped at the opportunity to learn how to make my own painting frames. Again, a really fun and for me challenging studio to work in with incredible support. I made frames for all my Thesis Exhibition paintings. I am so grateful for that opportunity. I do plan to have a small woodworking space in my studio. I was also really impressed with the two non-art classes I took to fulfill the American history and language requirements. The professors were absolutely outstanding! Professor Anthony Dandridge, who taught Race and Racism went above and beyond. He really opened my eyes to part of American history I had been unaware of and blind to. That experience has certainly changed my life. I also took a sign language class and loved it! It was fun, dynamic and made the language requirement not nearly as stressful as I expected. Language really needs to be taught to children, not older adults. So not only the art classes, but the academic classes were, although difficult, a pleasure and inspiring. My only regret, or disappointment, is that a couple of my firstsemester classes ended up being repetitive of what I had transferred. Although admittedly my art class transfers were confusing, a closer look during transfer advising may have caught that, which would have opened up time opportunities for me to take other classes I wish I had had time to take, such as sculpture, photography, woodworking. EF: What impact would you like your work to have on people or

on the world? CR: I have a very strong belief and connection to the God of my understanding. I look at the world, and I see nature’s beauty as God’s paintings. I look at the sky and think: Look what God painted in the sky today for us to enjoy and ponder! I want my artwork to reflect that sense of awe and wonder. For my senior painting thesis, I focused on environmental issues of pollution, tsunamis and rising waters, fires in California, and the Australian fire destruction and disruption of innocent animals’ lives. I painted those scenes, wanting to share images of what had touched me. Someone in a critique asked me why I painted images that are so difficult to look at. My response was that is exactly my point, I achieved my thesis goal. Many artists paint things they imagine. I don’t want to be in my brain, I don’t want to paint the contortions of my mind. I want to see what’s around me in the world and reflect those images in my work. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes difficult. That’s why I’m so intrigued with landscape painting. If I do one thing through painting, it’s to reflect what I see is happening to our environment. I think we tend to go through life with blinders on and only pay attention to what keeps us in our comfort zone. Art can open people’s eyes. I want to open people’s eyes through my painting. EF: What are your next steps? What would you like your practice as an artist to look like five years from now? CR: My husband and I are in the process of moving to the mid-coast of Maine where I will have my own studio. I am possibly going to seek an MFA at MECA, Maine College of Art, low-residency program. One of my five-year goals is to create a gallery to exhibit my work and that of new and emerging artists. Robin Arnold, one of my painting professors at New Paltz, suggested establishing a residency space for newly graduated or emerging artists. I love that idea. Come spend a week or a weekend in Maine, spend a couple of days painting on Monhegan Island, go down to the beach, and climb on the rocks. See what’s there. Here is a studio where you can paint. And at the end of that period, here’s a gallery where we can have an opening to show the work we created. When it comes down to the bottom line of where I want to be, I just want to paint every day, and help others do the same. 109

Elizabeth Berger Amanda Bogatka Emily Cavanaugh Miranda Crifo Robert Cusack Mary Flanagan Taylor Gephard Alexa Guevara Shabiha Jafri Kejiayun Ke Naira Luke-Aleman Sam Mazzara Joel Olzak Paige O’Toole Megan Reilly Claudia Rosti

Jiabin Zhao 110

My endless suffering life emerges in my paintings. Painting becomes a way of self examination, visually showing my torment. Classical music brings me some form of peace, while I paint. The expressive quality of music makes my painting more dramatic, helping me to show my suffering in an artistic language. My struggle with gender is another reason that I paint. I am eager to show my spiritual female identity in my paintings and reveal my inner “Desperate Woman,” to represent my struggle with patriarchal society. My Chinese cultural heritage deepens this inner turmoil. The Anima conception of Jung, the unconscious feminine side of a man, is one of the main themes of my art and presents a path for me to become a complete person.


Desperate Woman, Oil on Canvas, 36 x 42


Detachment, Oil on Canvas, 42 x 36


Nirvana, Oil on Canvas, 36 x 42


Parallel Space, Oil on Canvas, 42 x 36


Land of Lost, Oil on Canvas, 42 x 36

The Chaotic Gazer, Oil on Canvas, 42 x 36

Sanford R. Fels Interviews Jiabin Zhao SF: I know you have adapted a lot to western culture, but I also know you have retained a lot of values from your home culture. What cultural and art-related things have you kept from your Chinese upbringing, and what western things have you adapted in your art? JZ: I captured something from eastern tradition - it’s kind of like life philosophies, or different perspectives to describe, to feel, to think about life itself. I am always trying to think about those. But you know, the thing that I captured from western culture, especially American culture, was just the free environment to live. Nobody was bothering me, nobody would give directions, or would tell me where to go or what I should do or where I should stay. And based on this I have a sort of freedom to do what I want to do, to think to what I want to think, and to say what I want to say. Even my English, at that specific period, (when I first came to America) was not very good. I only knew very few words, but you know, this kind of freedom just helped me grow a lot. After that I decided to change my major to painting and drawing. SF: What was your major originally? JZ: Oh, it was Business Management. SF: Before you came to America, what were you studying? JZ: Oh, you know, business still. My parents were business people, and they wanted me to become a businessman. They thought it would be very good for me. But after I came to America I just changed my mind. I just tried to follow the voice inside of me. SF: When you were in China, did you do any art at all? 116

JZ: No, I did nothing with art in China. Because my parents thought that that stuff could not bring you enough money, it cannot bring you power, you know, things like that. And at that time I didn’t even know I could dance, because people said, “You’re not tall, your body doesn’t look good enough for a dancer, it doesn’t look flexible.” Many things just stopped me from exploring those areas. I had no chance to explore anything. Imagine that I was a fish stuck in a bowl. I could go nowhere – and I didn’t even know what I wanted to do at that time. Because my life range was super small, and my parents just didn’t want me to go out. If individuals are stuck in one place, and only do very few things, they will loose many good abilities. In that period I felt that. And that’s why after two or three years of college in China, I decided to go abroad and leave that cultural background to breathe a little bit. SF: Can you describe your experience when you first came here? JZ: Oh, well that was a very tough time in my life, because my English was so bad and I didn’t know anyone here. And at that time this country was super strange to me. Also, before I came here, I didn’t leave my hometown for a long time – even in China I didn’t travel a lot. I couldn’t engage with others a lot. So to just suddenly jump to a different country, it would be a super big difference, and everything would be troubling to you. Even the tiny things that are simple for you guys would be very difficult for me. SF: When did you start feeling more comfortable being here? JZ: The second semester. Something started to be stable and it felt like spiritually, something recovered. In the second semester I felt something heal by this sort of freedom in this environment, and that I could breathe. I felt like a new life stage was coming,

and that the new me is birthed. I remember in the third semester I started tango – and I don’t know why, but it just jumped into my mind that “Oh, I should learn Tango… Where can I learn and who can be my teacher?” So I asked people and did some research and I fortunately found a teacher in this area. So I came to her and learned this dance from her. Everything went very well, she was a very professional ballet and tango dancer. SF: How did dancing feel? JZ: It’s a very good opportunity to engage with people. Before that, I was very like, traditional Chinese, who is like, very shy to even say hi to others. It is very hard for us to express ourselves to others, but dance gave me a very big change. I started to feel and connect with people, and I started to try and be more candid with people. We can do very simple things, like a very soft smile and simple movements, that let us know each other. Dance changed me a lot, and changed my body – it is stronger, more flexible and sensitive. And when your body is getting better, it will support your thoughts and feelings. I didn’t know that before. SF: I have noticed that many Chinese exchange students seem very shy and reserved. Is that due to the language barrier, or is that more so a cultural thing? JZ: It is partly a language barrier, but it is also cultural. China has a big population, which means limited resources, which means if you show your emotions and show everything too much, people can read them, and people will know you more, and they will find a good way to take stuff from you. This is why Chinese law is not as safe as American law in those terms. The law made by the Chinese government is not good enough to protect their citizens in this way. People will always say “let me help you” but expect more than it is worth in return. In America everything is clear, if I borrow one dollar, you expect me to give back one dollar, but there, if you borrow ten dollars, you owe ten

dollars, but you also need to help me, but you don’t know what this help will be. It will be unclear. This is why Chinese don’t show themselves, to protect themselves. SF: How did you first start doing art here? JZ: I think after I had been here three and a half years, I started to take painting classes. At that time I was struggling a lot. I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know what to do next. I loved music so much but I didn’t know how to play any music instrument. I went to the music department at New Paltz but the professor said that I should know how to use one instrument for eight years before I could take a class there, but maybe I can apply to the painting department, where I could paint and listen to music. I thought okay, let me take my first oil painting class. I started there. The first professor I had was um…. Jennifer! She was very sweet and helpful, she gave me enough time and materials to help me explore painting. After that, she saw something of mine and talked with me in person to help me keep doing art. She just gave me more confidence. Before that I didn’t know I could draw or paint! And she gave me more hope. After that I applied to the drawing and painting major! SF: You have many symbolic images in your work. I am curious about how those symbols relate to your two cultural backgrounds, of Asian art and Western art. JZ: I cannot say they have any connection with Asian or Western art. They just exist inside of my body. I wasn’t aware of them. My painting, it’s like, super random. This is also because I didn’t take any painting or drawing in China. If I took classes there, my art would be more realistic. That could be bad, but it is also good. The good is that I would have had no limitations, I could do anything I want with a paper or canvas, so it would give me more freedom to make something or explore something or to take some more risk – to challenge the traditions of painting. But 117

instead I started here. SF: Is there anything you want to add? SF: Do you have anything you want to say about your work? JZ: Firstly, the work from my mind, from my spirit – I made them very naturally… Okay, to talk about my work, I have to say myself, they are based on my experience, and one of those experiences is dance. I still need to go back to dance. In Tango dance my teacher was a lady, but she’s my teacher so she needs to lead me, so in that position I was a follower, and in that sort of culture, that means I would be the lady. So in that period, I would dance as a lady. And my female part birthed in that period. It made me softer and it let me know myself more. All of that information exists in my paintings. So I didn’t think I wanted to paint female figures in my paintings, but it just came, and it felt very comfortable for me. All of those symbols and content, they did not come with a plan. I would see meaning and thoughts in them after I made them. I would look and find out “Oh, because of this reason or that, I painted that.” In the future I might plan it more, but that was like a baby period, because I was just born, and I needed to explore with no reason, logic, or theory and to do anything I want. SF: Can you tell me about your relationship with gender again? How do you identify when it comes to gender? JZ: I feel mostly feminine, because my personality is very soft and not aggressive. I think it is also the reason I love literature and writing. I also think it is related to my hometown and cultural background – They always make people very soft and less aggressive. After I came here and learned tango, it just made me more feminine and less masculine. But recently I am a little more different, because I’m exercising to try to arouse the male part of myself because I want to keep some balance and explore different things. 118

JZ: First of all, don’t make specific sides between yourself like where I am from, who I am, or what I want to do. Those will make mistakes. But those mistakes shouldn’t be anything to kill yourself over! If so, you can make more mistakes to explore. Then empty your mind and those signs, and grow yourself, your approach to your own nature, and then I think after that you can really learn any traditions or discipline you want. Painting, philosophy, literature, any sort of subject or major. Don’t just pick one thing and do that for your whole life. Approach different stuff. Compare them, connect with them. You will find that all of those subjects and all of the majors are like brothers and sisters, all part of one large thing. Sometimes you will just focus on one small part, and focus on it your whole life. One small part will be very subjective. So when you start to approach different parts, the more you approach, the more perfect the whole view becomes. That is what I want to say. So don’t hesitate to make mistakes, and stay positive. I think that is all!


Colophon This first issue of Assembly was produced in October 2020 and published using Issuu. PT Serif was the font selected for the body of the journal. Geneva was used for the title font. Special thanks to Ed Felton who was my partner in developing and producing the journal. Thank you to Beth Thomas (outgoing Chair Spring 2020) , Thomas Albrecht (incoming Chair Fall 2020), and Dean Jeni Mokren who have shown incredible support for this work. Thank you to the faculty advisors who supported their students through the challenging maze of graduating in a pandemic. Thank you to Lindsay Lennon for helping us spread the word about this publication and exhibition. Thank you to Beth Humphrey, Ellen Seibers, and the membership and board of the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum for supporting our students with an exhibition in their amazing space.




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