Canis Latrans | University of South Dakota MFA

February 28 - April 12, 2020

Visual Arts Center | Young Artists Gallery 

Canis Latrans is an exhibition designed to showcase the works of five Master of Fine Arts (MFA) students from the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. The work represents a wide variety of subject matter and material exploration. The exhibition includes artist Jonathan Purdy, Hunter Smith, Joe Schaeffer, Yazmin Moktan and Julie Ellingson.

Sponsored by:


Artist Reception

March 7 from 6-8 p.m.

View Visual Arts Center Hours

About the Artists

The making of a piece is, for me, the height of that piece. There is even a level of disappointment that occurs upon its completion. Like the end of a good book or the last episode of a marathon binge. The culmination of a piece is where my involvement in the conversation ends, it is for the viewer to have the last word. It starts with absurdity. Sometimes the absurdity is visual, an item that fits in no time or space, sometimes it is a concept, a country that exists only as a melting pot exulting in xenophobia. The world is an array of infinite specs of absurdity, barely holding together, entropy constantly trying to pull them apart. Each piece is a crossroads. An intersection where maximalism through redaction is forced into a minimalist scope. As the information sector expands so does it bring with that expansion new pitfalls. In this moment redaction becomes a language all its own. The layers within are the movements of our conversation; absurdity, emotion, suppression and redaction. ©2019

These compositions are an exploration of how our state of mind can augment our perceptions of self. Our emotional disposition is deeply connected to bodily awareness and how we navigate and interpret physical space. I have always felt that moments of anxiety, stress or frustration have an immense physical presence on myself. Tension in my chest and jaw, apparent lack of oxygen in room, the subtle grinding of my back teeth. Cortisol has a way of making the body feel like a ball of clay grasped too tightly in the hand of a sculptor. The characteristics of these tensions inform the material composition and abstraction within the figures. By personifying these reactions, it has helped me explore the actual emotional weight these moments have to the summation of my own character.

This body of work is a demonstration of my relationship with design and art. The M.F.A. process has fostered an environment for exploration, experimentation, and growth. The work in this show is a representation of how I wish to continue my practice of design and art; a space for co-existence. ‘New Windows’ explores new relationships between humans, screens, and oneself through art and design. In an age where digital screen time continues to increase, individuals are finding it harder to concentrate and contemplate. In some cases, this lack of concentration and contemplation has lead to rising amounts of stress, creating imbalance and affecting well-being. Further research has lead me to two questions. How can digital design be used to create opportunities for immersion and contemplation? What responsibility do designers have to users and themselves in creating content that may increase screen time use? Pursuit of answering these questions has lead to exploring ideas of how digital screens can be used to integrate and enhance the environment around us.

Concepts of immersion, time and scale in nature, and visual communication come together in a series of purposefully designed graphics that inhabit multiple points in the space. Through investigation and contemplation, I am discovering that my paintings are partially a residual result of my hesitation to always be working in a screen. The intuitive and gestural nature of my work demonstrates a freedom (both physically and mentally) that I have yet to be able to replicate in my design work. The calligraphic energy of my paintings are complementary of my approach to design. It should have intensity and exude presence. I have found that the maintenance of both design and art have brought me closer to finding balance in my life. I am grateful for all of the opportunities that I’ve been given during my time at the University of South Dakota and look forward to the continued pursuit of my design and art practice. 

This body of work investigates the gendered systems that define our daily interactions. Using records of mythology and stories as primary resources, I have found countless similarities across cultures and regions in how differently women and men have been treated throughout our history. These separations have led to gendered attributes assigned to both groups that have woven themselves so deeply into our beings, that extricating ourselves from these inherent divides seems to be a task all on its own. These paintings present a divine feminine energy, unbound by the rules of this world. Each painting focuses on breaking down the gender based stereotypes associated with each prominent icon by presenting them as more than what we know. In doing so, I hope to blur the lines between masculine and feminine, to instead shine light on the intersectionality that makes us into whole, complex beings.

From an early age, I’ve always been involved in design and art. At the young age of 11, I entered a drawing submission of a pirate’s head to the Art Instruction School of Minneapolis, MN. Soon thereafter I became a student. I explored all types of drawing methods, mediums and interacted with artists in the critique of my work early in life. Continuing on to college to study backgrounds in art, photography and industrial technology honed my technical skills. My favorite tool is my blade, given to me at my first job at the Grand Forks Herald, it was used for everything that I created. I still have that blade, 25 years later, and the layouts I generated by hand prior to the desktop publishing era remind me of my roots and how I got my start in design. Mastering the technical aspects of a project, whether it is in the darkroom, taking the perfect photograph or learning new software, influences my work.

Since I began my design career during the dot com boom in the 1990s, the onset of the computer was also an important influence on my work, most of my work is still rooted in the mechanical and rudimentary skills I learned in the early years of hand layouts, color separations and camera work. The computer made it easier to capture images, manipulate, crop and mask them on screen. I discovered the power of the photograph and how to fully integrate the image in the reality of the page. Photo composition and graphic design are very closely related. The layout, balance, and color theory of design are also similar when working with photos. I feel my work conveys desire and emotions through the impactful use of photography and being able to compose photos for my own design work makes it a truly unique experience and reduces my dependency on clichéd stock photos.

As I currently pursue my MFA degree at the University of South Dakota, with a specialization in Graphic Design, the desire to think critically and develop creative and impactful content has migrated to the forefront of my design process. I am particularly interested in combining my graphic design skills with my photography background to communicate my messages more effectively to distinct and targeted audiences. I have realized the importance of the creative method and gathering research prior to beginning the design process. Through the design method process, I have come to understand how this approach to design can open creative channels and push the boundaries of my work. As a result, the outcomes have a higher impact and more powerful emotional connection with the audience. When I begin a commercial art project, whether it is a product catalog or technical publication, doing research on the product, understanding the intended audience and working towards the client’s goal is vital in developing a successful project. Graphic Design, in my opinion, is to communicate a message, concept or idea effectively.

My work shows ways to communicate ideas and messages in a clear and concise manner while delivering a lot of information into an easy-to-interpret design. My current research compares past print media audiences with current digital media audiences and the relationships between the two. How do devices and user interface alter the intended message and how can graphic design and the use of photography/ video improve the design to engage all audiences. With over 25 years’ experience working in the real world environment of marketing and graphic design, I enjoy the engagement of working with the client the most. Achieving the goals of the project, whether it is a simple project such as an online form to register students for a class or a complete media campaign to launch a new product, communicating ideas and messages in a clear and concise manner to the intended audience and seeing successful results is gratifying.