Every year the seniors in CU Denver’s bachelor of fine arts degree program end their final year of study with one final test: the BFA Thesis Exhibition. After a year or more of working on a project to represent all they learned, students majoring in photography, painting/drawing, transmedia-sculpture, digital animationillustration, and digital design display their final product at RedLine, a contemporary art gallery in Denver with a reputation for housing outstanding national and international shows. There, in a space where hundreds of established artists have displayed their work, the student artists will present theirs for the public.

Fine Arts at Redline
Artists prepare their works at the Redline Gallery

“It’s an important part of the undergraduate experience in the visual arts to actually exhibit their work,” says Mary Connelly, associate professor in the College of Arts and Media, area head of Painting/Drawing and Illustration, and director of this year’s exhibition. “It’s really stimulating to see the astounding work that these young people produce, to hear the conversations their creativity stimulates and the critical feedback they give each other. The exhibition is a well-deserved celebration of their hard work.” Connelly says this year’s exhibition, the fifth one housed at RedLine, will showcase 71 students and their projects, “a real feast for the eyes.” Here, a few of those talented students talk about their creative work and their post-graduation plans.

Maddie Hanson, Photography Emphasis

Maddie HansonWhat will you be displaying at the thesis exhibition?It’s called Women: The Unseen. What I’m doing is using alternative processes, doing liquid emulsion on a light bulb to show a portrait of a woman’s head and liquid emulsion on water-color paper to show a portrait of that woman’s body gesture. The project will be an installation of the light bulbs set up in a row, which will illuminate the prints of the women’s bodies right behind them. Basically, I reached out through social media and asked for any woman from any background who has a story or an experience they’d like to tell. Then, I had them pose in a way unique to them and I had them write a statement about their experience with sexism. I wanted to tell women’s stories of injustices or experiences that get swept under the rug. One woman talked about how she works in an all-male field in the military and when she walks in the room they call her “a skirt”—those are the stories I wanted to tell.

Women: The Unseen

How did you come up with that idea?
I usually just start with an issue and go from there. Through my experiences talking with women, I realized that even though people are aware of women’s rights, the issues women face are still at hand but turned a blind eye to. It’s important to make sure individual stories are being told. I am a woman, but I’m not really your standard “feminine” woman. I dress in guy’s clothes and I used to have really short hair, so I’ve never experienced things like catcalls or limitations in institutions yet. In that way, I feel like both an insider and an outsider to these difficult experiences of being a woman, so I wanted to explore what it means to be a woman with this project, while also bringing awareness to these women’s stories.

How has the Photography Program helped you?
It helped me find my own style. The program gave me enough creative space to develop a subject any way I wanted to, which allowed me to really develop as an individual artist. I’m really thankful for that.

What’s next after graduation?
I want to travel, maybe work with non-profits to document the work they’re doing. I’ll always be photographing stuff no matter where I am, but for the subject matter I’m interested in, the best way to talk about people and issues is to go out and experience them. So, I’ll be looking for a new culture to immerse myself in.

Michael Eldridge, Digital Design Emphasis


Michael Eldridge What will you be displaying at the thesis exhibition?
My project is a vision demo of an Apple watch application I’ve designed called VeloWatch, which cyclists would use for safety. It’s a user experience project, so I came up with the design of the application, how it will work, and what it will look like, but I don’t actually write all the code to make it work. When fully functioning, the application would utilize a proximity sensor mounted on a bike to provide the rider with alerts about traffic approaching from behind, upcoming dangerous intersections, or areas with an accident to help keep them safe.

How did you come up with that idea?
I’ve always been a cyclist—I ride everywhere, so I wanted to do something in cycling for my last hoorah in this program. I wanted to use what I’ve learned in the design program to solve a safety problem for cycling, capitalizing on the new Apple watch technology. There’s nothing like this out there right now, but maybe now there can be.


Who or what is your artistic inspiration?
I wouldn’t say a specific person’s work inspires me. I’m really inspired by things that solve problems, whether it be an application or even an advertisement that tells a story in a creative way.

How has the Digital Design Program helped you?
It’s very hands-on, so I’ve learned a lot of skills that will be useful in the real world as opposed to just learning theories. I have friends that graduated with other degrees and they all have trouble because they never actually learned how to get things done the way I have in this program. I’m actually prepared for my future.

What’s next after graduation?
I’m moving to Sacramento! I took a job at a small software company as a user experience designer, basically doing what I did for this project.

Selina Akter, Painting Emphasis

Selina AkterWhat will you be displaying at the thesis exhibition?
The title of my work is The East Meeting the West. I used bright contrasting colors and fine lines to create different abstract motifs. One motif is called “Alpona,” a traditional Bengali decorative art form that has been used in the Indian Sub-Continent as a symbol of welcome that expresses joy and happiness. That’s what the painting is—an expression of joy.

How did you come up with that idea?
I wanted to explore my dreams and hopes as a woman living in two totally different cultures: my native land of Bangladesh and the Western culture I live in now. The vibrant colors represent the joy I feel expressing myself fully in the West, and the patterns represent self-control, boundaries, and the environment of the East, which restricted free expressions of joy the way I want to express it.

The East Meeting the West

What was your first attempt at painting?
When I was eight years old I went to an art competition for my school, and I got first prize for a landscape painting! After that I decided I wanted to study art. My parents and friends thought I should study science or something else that is good for the job market, but I knew a medical or science degree could make me money but wouldn’t make me happy.

How has the Painting and Drawing Program helped you?
The impact of this program on my life as an artist has been invaluable. It helped me to position myself as an artist who believes that art is for life and everybody has the right to express their feelings the way they want to.

What’s next after graduation?
I’m currently working as an art instructor for Aurora Public School’s COMPASS (Community of Many Providing After School Success) program. I hope to continue with that program while I try to get my teaching license to work as an art teacher. In the mean time, I’ll also look for an MFA program.

Walter Ware, Sculpture Emphasis

Walter WareWhat will you be displaying at the thesis exhibition?
It’s a sculpture made of iron and wood entitled Wald about German culture and folklore. It’s a small forest, a little abstract, built from the perspective of when I was younger. I grew up with a German culture—I was born in Germany, played with German kids, and spoke German as a first language—and the piece is reflective of that.

How did you come up with that idea?
Growing up in the country, the forest was always there, and a lot of what I heard when I was younger were German stories and Grimm’s fairy tales, and the forest is really central in that. That’s something I’ve carried from my youth until now, and I wanted to make a piece that’s reflective of that. My materials were also part of the motivation. My materials, iron and wood, are reflective of German culture, the duality of the industrial aspect that people always see of Germany and the fantastic, romantic aspect represented by the forest.


Why did you choose the sculpture emphasis?
I wasn’t planning on going back to school for an art degree. Before I went to school I was a blacksmith, and I knew I could further my blacksmithing skills by getting outside instruction and critiques, and the sculpture program offered that. Gradually I realized that what I was doing was an art, so I developed a greater love for sculpture and art.

How has the Sculpture Program helped you?
The best part has been the support of faculty and fellow sculptors. It never felt too competitive. Instead, my fellow sculptors always helped me find ways to be better and produce better work, and that has been great.

What’s next after graduation?
Right now I’m working for local artist Patrick Marold on his art installation for Denver International Airport, so I’ll continue doing that. I also want to establish my own little shop, turn out more art, and, most importantly, continue to increase my skill set.

Heather Fleischman, Digital Animation

Heather FleischmanWhat will you be displaying at the thesis exhibition?
Well, the entire Digital Animation program does one project, one animated short film, together. This year it’s a film called Tiny Town about a peaceful, happy little town where it feels like nothing will ever go wrong and then everything goes wrong, and it’s up to a simple ice-cream man to rise up against the challenges and defend his home. But, there’s a twist at the end, and it’s really cute. We started this project a year and a half ago with pre-production, which includes character design and story-boarding. Last fall we started making the cameras and the set, and this semester we’ve been working on animation and the finishing touches.

How has the group worked together to make this project?
There are 23 students working on the film, but we divided into smaller groups of three-four people, and each group is responsible for everything in one sequence—the cameras, the animation, the effects, everything. It’s really fun to have that kind of ownership and to work with your peers. We all work together really well, which is good because this kind of collaboration is standard in the industry.

Tiny Town

How has the Digital Animation Program helped you personally?
When I came to CU Denver I had no idea what I wanted to study or do after graduation. I joined the program because it looked interesting, and I have loved it. Besides teaching me a lot of techniques, the program inspired me to start working in different animation styles like stop-motion. Now I do a lot of side projects, including running a small stop-motion animation company, Blue Poncho Productions, with my mom.

What’s next after graduation?
I’ll be applying to companies in Denver who do commercial 3d or motions graphic, and I’ll apply for internships at all the big studios since that’s ultimately where I’d like to end up. One of the points of this project is to help us all get jobs, so now I can use this in my demo reel as I start applying.

Brandon Sugg, Illustration Emphasis\

Brandon SuggWhat are you displaying at the thesis exhibition?
I’m creating an ongoing comic book series called Aziza. For the show, I’m presenting a 13-page chapter of that series in comic book form, which will be part of an ongoing web comic that I’ll keep working on after graduation. Everything will be done by hand and then eventually uploaded to my website after thesis. Aziza takes place in an alternate reality somewhat like fifteenth century Earth where magic and spirits are commonplace. It follows the main character, Aziza, who is tasked with stopping five ancient demon kings from, essentially, destroying the world.

How did you come up with that idea?
I’ve known I’ve wanted to do this for a few years, so I’ve been writing stories and coming up with characters in my free time. I tried to interpret our own human history and make it magic. Then I just made up all these characters and tried to set them loose in this made-up world.


Do you have an artistic inspiration?
I read a lot of comic books, but my biggest influence is Eiichiro Oda. He’s been working on a weekly Manga series since 1997, and there are about 780 chapters. I think his art and his work is amazing, and one day I’d like to be able to do a 20-page chapter a week like him.

How has the Illustration Program helped you?
Having teachers who have and still work in the illustration field is so helpful. We learned what to expect in the field and how to go about professional things alongside artistic development. Ultimately, the program motivated me to become a graphic novelist.

What’s next after graduation?
Hopefully I’ll start doing some freelance work and commissions, and I’ll be working on my comic book. I have multiple stories lined up. Eventually I’d like to publish them, sell them, and even promote them at conventions like Comic Con.

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