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Meticulous artistry

Introducing the world of bachelor of fine arts graduates

Published: Sunday, April 4, 2004

Updated: Monday, February 2, 2009 13:02

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Looking pensive and artsy; from left, B.F.A. graduates Brian Huhn, Denny Trame, Jody Russ, Michael Douglas, Bitsy Mayhle and Molly Strader.


It's more than just being dedicated," Denny Trame said, his lips and tongue tinted a shade of deep blue from licking his paintbrush-shaped lollipop. "You have to be bordered on obsessed."

It's an accurate way to describe the set of seven bachelor of fine arts graduates, one of whom was so immersed in her work she could not be called away for a picture. They are bordering on what could perhaps be called an extreme love for art, relentlessly working to refine their projects and spending what, for many, amounted to an extra year or more to be part of the intense program.

They started out as a group of 10 (two were let go and one quit), and those remaining are a testament to what an artist thrives on, as Trame said, an obsession for personal perfection. The requirements are intimidating: a minimum 3.0 Grade Point Average, the formal application process, the required 66 hours in studio art courses, the minor and the critique sessions where personal creations are analyzed and picked apart.

The basis for obsessive tendencies may benefit a student willing to be the literal manifestation of the "suffering artist."

"It's just a really tough program," said Jody Russ, one of the graduates whose work is on display in the first B.F.A. exhibition at the Center for Visual Arts Clement Gallery. "You don't realize how much pressure is put on you to improve your work, but I felt like we'd all made it by the second review."

The program is for UT's artistically elite in dedication, as any visit to the CVA illustrates. Most are in the studio on weekends (this weekend Michael Douglas, Brian Huhn and Carol Gorney were preparing for their upcoming B.F.A. II exhibit.) This is an introduction to seven students who entered UT as artists and left the refined products of UT instruction (and a lot of critiquing).

Jody Russ

The never-ending education: Russ started in 1993, left, then started again in 1998, but said the work didn't really pick up until 2001.

"From 2001 and on, basically all my work has been 'on.' It's been in shows and won awards," she said.

Hole-ripping and other academic endeavors: Although the committee reviews of their work are constructive, she jokes that "you hang up your work and then they basically tear you a new one."

The top: The height of the experience academically was when her most critical professor finally budged enough to praise her work. "I can tell he's proud of me. That's the pinnacle, when all my teachers are proud of me."

An ambitious future: Russ plans on taking a year off and is then looking forward to tackling graduate school, like Washington State, Arizona State or Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she can study more of the "alternative processes" she loves.

Bitsy Mayhle

Athletically minded: Mayhle began at UT after being recruited to play volleyball. She had intended to stick with her studies in pre-med until she developed a disinterest in the chemistry and biology it involved, turning to art instead.

The similarity of sports and art: The natural athlete has found that conditioning as an artist and an athlete can be similar.

"I think it ties in a lot with being an athlete," she said. "Within structure I find freedom to work. There's a lot of rigidity to what I do, but I can also go so many directions."

New York City: A native of Houghton, N.Y., she is feeling the call to return home after graduation, where she'll explore either working as an artist or finish studying medicine.

"Definitely being in the program made me consider being an artist," Mayhle said.

Brian Huhn

School for the meticulous: Huhn's studies in metalsmithing have led him to a more perfectionist, "clean" perspective.

"It gives a challenge to make something that perfect," he said. "[The artistic frustration] all comes with the territory."

Works hard for the money: Between working his job drywalling and putting in the time for his B.F.A. degree, Huhn has learned a thing or two about time management, or lack of time to manage.

"You might as well take that extra year to learn more," he said. "It seems like the work grows the most in the final year."

Art on the side: After spending so much time putting art at the forefront, Huhn plans to use his creativity for himself as opposed to a means of survival.

Denny Trame

The art of play: After a start in the department of recreation, he fell into the rigorous program, after getting hooked on it after taking Drawing I.

A taste for the destructive: In his artist's statement, Trame says he is overwhelmed by a world where similarity is so evident - what separates us is the "crap" we all go through. His work is evidence of his eccentric love for the flawed: When he hated the look of one project, he took a sledgehammer to it and "then I turned it in."

"I just really like that look," he explained.

Perfection pays, but the flawed is more fun: While working his job in the tile industry (the meticulousness of which he has grown to detest), he will continue his work in sculpture and photography.

Michael Douglas

Spirited dedication: Despite the hours Douglas spends in the studio kneading clay into his artistic vision, he considers the B.F.A. program to be an encouraging push.

"I think the main thing is dedication. You have to enjoy doing it. This is what most of us consider some play time."

Making a good impression: Douglas likes painting as well, but loves clay because it works as the perfect medium to explore texture.

"It's just fun. Clay takes impressions, so you can play with the texture."

The end has no end: Taking a break from his weekend work in the ceramics lab, Douglas said he probably will leave the "learning experience" of the B.F.A. program for the rigors of graduate school.

Molly Strader

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