Students in the University of Wisconsin’s art department have committed the egregious error of underselling their passion and talent for creating works of art.
All 12 students are enrolled in the department’s Advanced Painting Workshop, a thesis painting class for the university’s “most talented undergraduate painters,” professor Nancy Mladdenoff said. This week, the workshop’s students have assembled a collection of their artworks from the past semester. While they humorously call the exhibition the Wild Waste Show, visiting the Humanities Building’s 7th Floor Gallery reveals it is nothing of the sort.
Senior Anna Wehrwein explained that the difficulty in developing a title for this exhibit came out of the organization of the workshop itself. The Wild Waste Show’s eclectic mix of artworks reflects this unique structure: “The title is sort of a non-sequitur. It’s hard because it’s a group show. It’s very disparate. How do you come up with a title for 12 different people”?
The Advanced Painting Workshop brings together undergraduate painters with a variety of interests and styles. Each semester, art majors may submit a portfolio for departmental review. This determines whether they are accepted into the workshop. Those who are accepted are given their own studio space and participate in the culminating show each semester.
Logistically, workshop painters select two or three pieces for each semester’s exhibition. For the Wild Waste Show, Wehrwein said that she and her classmates had two group critiques among the students and individual critiques with their professors. From these, each student chose their favorites: “We have much more work that’s not getting in,” Wehrwein said. “You picked the things you really felt great about.”
Most unique to the workshop are its free-form requirements. “We’re all sort of free,” Wehrwein said. Fellow workshop student Kendall Helland added, “there are no assignments, no rules, nothing. We just get in the class; they give us our space and say, ‘go make a ton of paintings. Make art.’”
This structure makes the Advanced Painting Workshop distinct from other courses in the art department.
“I remember feeling a shift from other painting classes and other art classes. [In those,] you’re a student and … have assignments. [The course instructors] set up parameters. All of a sudden, when you come to this class, you’re not being assessed as a student as much as an artist,” Wehrwein said.
Helland explained that this approach to creating art directly impacts the outcomes of students’ pieces. “[We learn] how to make stuff for a show, to make a product rather than just a project,” Helland said. While other art classes give students assignments like painting portraits or in abstract styles, workshop students focus on the long-term: “It’s not one project at a time. It’s the collective growth.”
Just because the requirements are open-ended does not imply that these painters do not work hard at their craft.
“We are all really serious artists who are planning to pursue this long term,” workshop student Cara Feeney said. This devotion is evident when you visit their studios in the Humanities Building. In fact, the large amount of time these painters spend “on the ground” is metaphorical as well as literal: A mattress, couch and other life necessities all sit inside the workshop studios.
“There’s a certain point when you realize that when there is a fridge, a toaster oven, a microwave and a coffee pot, you probably should be living here,” Wehrwein laughed.
Spending so much time together has made the group cohesive, sometimes even familial. “It’s close quarter; we’re talking, and we are working together to a certain extent and learning so much from each other,” Wehrwein said.
In their cozy workspaces, they discuss technique and share their thoughts about their peers’ artwork. This was certainly the case during the students’ preparation for the Wild Waste Show’s opening. Whether it was last-minute lightbulb installation or placement suggestions for their paintings, the subtler forms of collaboration among the group were evident.
Wehrwein’s painting, titled “Girls Talking to Girls about Boys” provides a great example of this. It depicts several hands scooping mouthwatering breakfast foods onto several plates.
“I was almost [finished]. I knew there was this plate of bacon that needed to be there, but I had no idea what color plate [to paint]. ‘What color is that? What color is that plate?’ And then [my classmate] Kelsey [Hall] had a little scrap of fabric in her studio, and she was like, ‘How about this?’ And we held it up, [saying] ‘Yeah! That’s right!’”
The words and phrases “elegant” and “like a New York gallery” have been used to describe the Wild Waste Show. “This is on par with some of the best,” professor Derrick Buisch said. And Hall emphasized painting’s value for the university and artists all over: “This is exciting stuff! It’s bright, it’s new, [it's] interesting. Interesting!”
The excitement generated by the Wild Waste Show illustrates two important things about the 12 students who live in the seventh floor attic above Park and University: they have demonstrated their aptitude for creating visual art and “self-deprecating” irony.
The Wild Waste Show will be open through Friday in the Humanities Building 7th Floor Gallery.