There’s no doubt that alumni of the University of Wisconsin go on to achieve greatness, but how often do students get to witness their success first-hand?
An exhibit in the gallery at the Education Building on campus displays a large portion of work from the BIG TEN(T) showcase, a project dedicated to sharing the work of artists who all have one thing in common — their past experience as UW students.
Originating in June of 2016, the BIG TEN(T) project began as a showcase and trade of art among UW alumni artists. The event was meant to encourage alumni to share artwork with each other and benefit from building a connected community of artists. Barry Roal Carlsen, who is also a Wisconsin alumnus, organized the event.
In September, another show was presented at ArtHelix Gallery in New York, hosted by Peter Hopkins who also attended Wisconsin. The showcase included a variety of forms of art including paintings, prints, sculptures and photographs from 60 different artists who were either Wisconsin MFA or BFA alumni, ranging widely in age. The exhibit displayed on campus currently consists of some of the works that were presented in New York.
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Carlsen hopes the fact that there is a “durable, connected group of alumni” will encourage this event in the future, as well as a desire to continue building a community among these artists. The idea is that this community will thrive in the future and continue to provide alumni with connections to each other that will benefit them in the long run and act as a self-empowering force in their careers. While the project was somewhat of an experiment this year, the goal is to receive even more recognition and create more opportunities for sharing the work of former art students at UW.
Carlsen’s own experience in the world of art can be traced back to UW, where he received his MFA and studied lithography after finishing his BFA at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Since then displays of his work have reached far and wide. He describes his experience during his career as an artist as “more of a marathon than a sprint,” in that it has required a lot of consistent effort and time.
Carlsen’s art has been shown across the United States and in galleries in Europe as well. While he studied printmaking when he was a student, a lot of his work includes paintings, as access to a print shop is not always available.
His own works often depict lush landscapes in painted or charcoal form, sometimes with human elements blended in.
Carlsen says that a lot of the time he finds his inspiration from connecting with his past experiences. “The majority of my paintings … derive from reminiscences of my childhood and my family and places I’ve visited,” he says. He also explains that a recent trip to Norway offered him newer inspiration involving his family history, furthering his idea that a physical location can be much more meaningful and powerful when it holds sentimental value or provides a strong personal connection.
He describes how he often uses this idea of showing certain places in his paintings to portray deeper meanings that are more abstract. “It’s not exactly all about the landscape specifically, it’s more like using the landscape for connecting with some emotional state of mind or maybe some symbolic connection that I feel like I have,” he says.
Carlsen’s first experience with UW was as a student, but he worked for 30 years as a graphic designer for the university as well. He says he was originally drawn to UW because of the highly ranked lithography program offered here. He currently teaches lithography in the art department. Carlsen says teaching has allowed him to be involved in the world of art in a different way and has given him more time to focus on his own work as well.