MFA Exhibition Feature in Go Triad 2015 / by Brittany Søndberg

Come Friday, Marlowe Lowe, Brittany Søndberg, Stephanie J. Woods and Lu Xu will embark on a new phase of life.

Two years of intense study will reward them with Master of Fine Arts degrees in visual art from UNC-Greensboro.

Now, it’s time to put lessons learned to the test in the challenging profession of making, selling and teaching art.

Naturally, the four speak of being excited — and nervous.

“I’m excited to move on and see what work I will develop without the structure of the school,” said Søndberg, 32. “But at the same time, I am going to miss that — having constant feedback and criticism good and bad, the facilities, the expertise of the professors.”

To meet thesis requirements, they opened on Sunday a month-long display of their new art at UNCG’s Weatherspoon Art Museum, which exhibits the work of internationally known modern and contemporary artists.

The experience has taught them what it takes to present an exhibition.

“The public sees artwork on the wall, but there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that takes place months before,” said Weatherspoon registrar Kim Watson, who keeps detailed records of its art collection.

Xu said she feels honored to exhibit there.

“It is a very prestigious museum,” she said. “People who work here also work with top artists in the country. So we get to know what it means to get prepared for a show like this.”

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UNCG’s art department lists Maud Gatewood and McDonald “Mackey” Bane among its famous graduates.

“UNCG has produced a lot of great, interesting artists, and this is another good year for them,” said Xandra Eden, Weatherspoon’s curator of exhibitions.

“They are right in the milieu of what is going on in contemporary art,” Eden said. “They are doing projects on par with what you would see in contemporary galleries and museums across the country. They are at the cutting edge of the kind of art that is being produced today.”

They create with metal, photography, performance art — even hair.

Xu, 27, came to the United States six years ago from China, after receiving her undergraduate degree from the Capital University of Economics and Business in Beijing.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Northern State University in South Dakota, then came to UNCG.

Xu focuses on sculpture and art performance, incorporating walking into her art. Her works at the Weatherspoon include her diary of a 72-mile walking project in San Francisco and a video of one in Greensboro.

The video shows Xu pulling a lightweight wooden boat that she had built to Harris Teeter after a snowstorm to buy groceries.

“Walking is the most natural way of resonating with the environment,” she said.

Woods, a 24-year-old from Charlotte, finished her bachelor’s degree in sculpture at UNCG, then entered its graduate program.

Woods uses both real and synthetic hair in her elaborate art.

She used paper, synthetic hair weave and brown Ampro styling gel in a wall installation titled “Gelled Down Baby Hair.” Another installation titled “Weave Idolatry” displays a series of masks depicting different hairstyles made from synthetic hair weave.

“The work is really about the transformation of African American women and how they present themselves to the world through the manipulation of their hair,” Woods said.

Art attracted Lowe because of its potential for self-expression.

“You have an idea and try to figure out how you can get it across without words,” she said.

Lowe, 30, came from Elmira, N.Y., to study at UNCG. Her work explores themes of family, memory and place.

She drew inspiration and materials from a tree next to her grandparents’ home that aged as they did.

Backlighting shines through her double-sided drawings, created with charcoal that Lowe made from the tree’s pine cones.

She, too, uses real hair in an abstract image of her family’s home. When her family members got haircuts, they sent the trimmings.

She asked her parents to each take a photo every hour they were awake over one week. She published the photos in seven small books.

“It’s almost like a narrative as you go through them,” Lowe said.

Søndberg received her undergraduate degree in metal design and jewelry. She worked as a jewelry artist in Greensboro before entering UNCG’s graduate program.

At UNCG, Søndberg learned to fabricate steel sculpture. She bends steel rods by hand into various shapes and spray paints them, creating works that resemble line drawings moving through space.

Art preparators Susan Taaffe and Shane Carrico, who install exhibitions, talked them through installation details.

Woods had to make a blueprint for “Gelled Down Baby Hair,” an installation made in seven parts. “I had to trace it, take pictures of it, go to the computer and Photoshop it with measurements,” she said.

They filled out loan forms, listing insurance values and sale prices.

Then last week, they installed their art.

“I’m really excited to see what my family thinks,” Woods said. “They are not really artists, so it’s going to be interesting to see how they interpret the work. It has layers of meaning, which is a reflection on their history as well as mine.”

At Sunday’s opening, the artists described their work to family, friends and Weatherspoon supporters. They will give another public talk Tuesday.

Stephanie Woods posed for pictures with her family and her art.

“I have seen my daughter’s work, but never heard her verbalize the content of her work,” said her father, Joe Woods. “I was pleasantly surprised. It is rewarding to see her doing things she wanted to do.”

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Their artistry will get more exposure in New York. Thanks to UNCG, they will exhibit in an August show at Southfirst gallery in Brooklyn.

As they prepare to leave UNCG, they ponder their future.

Xu wants a job with a nonprofit art organization, museum, university or Asian studies center in the United States.

“I’m excited that I can keep exploring something, and scared of unpredictability,” Xu said.

Søndberg, who taught a sculpture class while at UNCG, is looking for adjunct teaching jobs at area colleges. She will resume jewelry-making, but also pursue commissions for her metal sculpture.

And she’ll have more time to spend with her 3-year-old son.

Woods will teach art this summer at a children’s camp run by Greensboro’s African American Atelier.

She has applied for teaching and gallery assistant jobs, as well as artist residencies.

“I have built a lot of relationships here, and I’m anxious about actually leaving,” Woods said. “Now I have to start all over and build new relationships in another place.”

Residency programs offer another opportunity for artists to immerse themselves in their work — making, discussing, networking and critiquing, said Mariam Stephan, who directs graduate studies for UNCG’s art department.

They also help new MFA graduates transition from the sheltered environment of college — and put them on the radar of the art world.

“They have the mental space and time to keep that ball rolling,” Stephan said.

Lowe will teach this summer at Greensboro’s Center for Visual Artists. She is applying for residencies and exploring teaching possibilities.

“I’m ready to step out and test the waters and see what’s out there for me with my new degree,” she said.

Contact Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane at (336) 373-5204, and follow @dawndkaneNR on Twitter.