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From Reference City to No-Man's-Land: IU's MFA Printmakers

Every spring, graduating MFA students at Indiana University's Hope School of Fine Arts exhibit their work in thesis shows at the IU Art Museum and the SoFA Gallery.

Printmakers Jeremy Sweet and William McMahan are among those whose shows open this Friday.

The Midwest Gets A Visit From The Wild West

In his silkscreens, Jeremy Sweet layers vintage movie posters and comic books, on top of which he arranges an inventory of classic tattoos. A native Californian, Jeremy is particularly drawn to tattoos that reference the legends of the wild West: cowboys, Indians, snakes, and snake-oil salesmen.

'More is more' is the operative aesthetic in Jeremy's work as well as on a tattoo flash sheet. "Being able to pick that many stories and ideas out of one sheet was so interesting to me," Sweet explained. "I was looking to find a lot of different stuff for the viewer to enjoy, and also to create those different layers to the story."

Although he transfers found comic book pages and movie posters directly into his silkscreens, he draws the tattoo images freehand. "They are not completely original ideas," Sweet acknowledges. "A lot of these tattoos have been done and redone many times over by each new artist. I reference certain stories, certain symbolism and then I make it my own."

Such notions as originality feel fairly hidebound in Sweet's carnivalesque studio, where Mayan masks brush shoulders with King Kong and Annie Oakley.

Figures, Flora And Fauna

Sweet's freewheeling vernacular stands in stark contrast to the cryptic language spoken in his colleague's nearby studio. William McMahan's thesis show is called Figure Studies, but one would be hard-pressed to identify the figures that populate his etchings as flora or fauna.

The fungus- and polyp-like shapes grew out of successive experiments in dislocation and de-familiarization. McMahan's research led him from the local mall-where he produced sketches that evoked Dawn of the Dead-to Venice, and eventually back into his studio. There, he took up drawing with left and right hand simultaneously.

That was when the disturbing multi-appendaged globules started to emerge. In an effort to get more physical in his approach, McMahan began carving his strange figures directly into the copper plate with the drypoint tool. The results were the first examples of the work he's exhibiting.

A World Unknown

The artists' determination to venture continually farther into terra incognita is manifest in the flight of works in the show. The clearly delineated figure/ground relationship evident in the first etchings William made evolved into more expansive landscapes, or galaxies.

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