UI fine-arts grad students show off their master's-pieces

UI fine-arts grad students show off their master's-pieces

CHAMPAIGN — A new University of Illinois exhibit features sustainable art from a former electrical engineer who moved into design, a mobile app that teaches girls about positive attitudes on body image, art inspired by a daily walk here and a sculpture that takes its visual cues from the human body.

In an annual exhibition, works of master's students in the School of Art + Design are on display through Saturday at Krannert Art Museum.

Artists that The News-Gazette spoke with showed an enormous variety in their inspirations.

Rachel Flood Heaton grew up in Champaign-Urbana and earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering at the UI.

She returned after a little over a decade to study industrial design.

"When you really think about the significant roles that objects have in our daily lives, it's staggering to think about the impact that a designer can have to improve the everyday experiences of people," she said.

"The very first thing we do as industrial designers is go meet people and try to deeply empathize with their needs and desires. Every project is unique and intense, but the focus on people never changes, and that is very meaningful to me."

Lately, she's been thinking a lot about a culture where "it's normal to consume objects in an unsustainable way, even replacing functional objects as 'not working' because they no longer look stylish in their environment."

"As designers, our work can just follow the constantly changing trends, or we can try to make something that will endure. This is harder than it sounds."

Originally from China, Qing He finds that graphic design shapes who she is.

"I value graphic design as an approach to find answers and communicate with the outside world. It's a way and a process to think. It's also flexible. Graphic design allows diverse approaches for visual communication and I can discover different visual languages."

She designed a mobile app that teaches young girls positive attitudes about body image, testing it on girls ages 5-8 years old.

"And I got positive responses from them. (I used) my findings through observing them playing the prototype in order to refine my work," she said.

Karen J. Spiering, who grew up in rural Wyoming and has lived all over the country, finds inspiration in nature.

"I began to use found materials from the locations I was working with. At first, I used locally sourced pigments to mix my own paints and then turned to the seeds and soils that themselves are material," she said.

She's influenced by walks on the south edge of Champaign and north Savoy, "along paths constructed out of cement or gravel and those made by repeated action of bicycle tires or feet."

"It includes the upper reaches of the Embarras River, a cultural landmark cemetery at the highest elevation, restored prairie, businesses and institutional land and roads carved under the rail lines," she said.

"Initiating conversations about place with people I encounter on my walk allows me to play with the idea of scale, which I will bring into the gallery by writing those narratives on the wall to continue to complicate and explore how the body understands the ground walked on and the landscape constructed in the mind or memory."

Caitlin Skelcey was drawn to metals and jewelry.

"It involves constant learning, patience and creative problem-solving," she said. "I think about how created materials infiltrate our culture and bodies. (They) are all evidence of our transhuman reality and all of which have their own baggage — both positive and negative — but are so culturally ingrained they make up our new nature."

Her sculptural adornment takes its visual cues from the human body "in looking to surgical science and anatomy augmentation, where there is a literal fusion of body and machine, and bone and metal; particularly with orthopedic surgical implants, life-saving and enhancing adornments such as prosthesis as well as the recent advances in bioprinting — i.e. 3-D printing of bones and organ tissue — all of which work to change and enhance a person's natural anatomy," she said.

The other exhibiting artists and designers featured: Aileen Bai, industrial design; Austin Chen, industrial design; Ben Cook, painting; Courtney Cross, painting; Evin Dubois, sculpture; Jon Gott, sculpture; Brett Hanover, new media; Brit Krohmer, new media; Sue Kay Lee, sculpture; and Si-ze Ma, graphic design.

If you go

What: 2017 University of Illinois School of Art + Design MFA Exhibition.

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., through Saturday.

Where: Main Level, East Gallery, Krannert Art Museum, Champaign.

Admission: Donation suggested.