Painting it all in UB's CFA

CFA students’ final projects transform CFA’s barren walls into art

UB’s Center for the Arts stands at the forefront of UB – the colorless behemoth overlooks Lake LaSalle, one of North Campus’ unmistakable landmarks. As constant construction brings a fresh exterior, a similar remodeling is taking place on the walls inside the CFA.

When the Center for the Arts started the public art initiative seven years ago, the bare, white walls of the basement hallways matched the colorless exterior of the building.

It was neutral, both in color and atmosphere.

Now, when visitors and students walk through the hallways of the CFA, they come face to face with multiple iridescent murals, painted larger than life, adorning the previously all-white walls. Students are painting the building as their final project for ART 307 Lab: Thematic Drawing. The course’s descriptions says the class and works are “self-determined” and “self-directed” and they act as an opportunity for students to not only showcase their work, but also to add their own personalized touch to UB’s walls. The department provides the paint, supplies and other materials the students need to complete their projects.

Each of the artists’ personalities, humor or thought-provoking ideas are expressed in their murals.

A giant super goose shooting lasers out of its eyes pays homage to UB’s annual infamous goose invasion. Another mural with two massive red and blue faces conceptualizes the malleability of self-identity. And in the entrance to the CFA basement closest to Lake LaSalle, a palm tree and a beach stand as a playful jab at Buffalo’s less-than-tropical winter weather.

“[My] artistic self has been waiting for this mural,” said Natalie Miller, a senior fine art student in the class.

For Miller, having a project with too many guidelines is restrictive. The freedom of the mural piece is the ultimate opportunity, she said.

“I have been drawing ever since I remember,” Miller said. “When I can be free with my creation – when I end up just going with the piece and not thinking too much about guidelines or a plan – that’s when the piece gets done best. When the piece can evolve as I am creating it.”

Miller’s detailed piece, two colossal red and blue faces framed by an arrangement of multicolored geometric shapes, speaks to the senior artist’s work ethic: Miller estimates she’s put about 50 hours into the mural, from brainstorming to sketching in class to actually painting the pieces.

She said the idea behind the faces was to explore her multi-faceted identity.

“The piece I am making plays into the idea of balance between yourself – the blue and red symbolize opposites: hot and cold; the moon and the sun; the two sides of yourself,” Miller said.

The professor teaching the lab, Augustina Droze, specializes in projects that require large amounts of conceptualization and planning – she is a muralist by trade.

Paula Zych, a junior fine art student in the class, said Droze is an “amazing professor.”

“She is a talented, honest artist – UB needs that kind of staff so the student artists can better themselves artistically,” Zych said.

Droze, a teaching assistant and adjunct professor, had no part in any student’s piece – the ideas for the murals were entirely up to the individual, she said.

“I help them execute their design, not plan the design,” Droze said in an email. “Planning is incredibly important in mural painting, so I help with those steps.”

The students in the course have been planning their projects for the span of the semester. First, they had to submit a project proposal, including a title, a conceptual statement and a detailed, drawn-to-scale sketch of the piece. The proposals were then submitted to CFA Department Chair Steve Kurtz, Director of the CFA Thomas Burrows and Director of Facilities Jerry Kegler for approval. The final piece was due on May 1. Senior fine art major Cassara Martin’s laser-shooting goose was a multi-step process: planning the piece, sketching the goose on the wall, mixing the paint and then actually handcrafting the goose.

Martin’s piece, unlike Miller’s two faces, has more of a humorous edge.

Martin’s laser-beam-shooting goose blowing up buildings around it has already brought smiles and laughter to passersby. The feedback, measured in giggles and compliments, is what makes the mural so special for Martin.

“I enjoy making things for other people to enjoy – the encouragement I received from others is probably the underlying reason I became an artist,” Martin said. “I wanted to leave something people will remember; if [the piece] makes a person smile or laugh then the image recall will be greater. Also, everyone hates geese.”

Whether through a crazed goose or metaphysical faces pondering self-identity, each artist brought his or her own personality to their pieces.

Zych a lifelong Buffalo resident was in the center of every snowstorm, living in West Seneca. So, to rebel against Buffalo’s infamous winter weather, Zych injected her own touch of sunny tropics into the bleakness of Buffalo winter – by putting a palm tree right inside the entrance of the CFA basement.

“It is my way of showing how much I appreciate tropical places – especially living in Buffalo,” Zych said. “It is so dim in the CFA and there is nothing near the back entrance – so I wanted to bring some happiness here.”

These murals add color to otherwise empty walls: Zych’s palm tree, Martin’s rampaging goose and Miller’s yin and yang faces, as well as all the other thematic drawing students’ murals, are impossible to miss while walking through the narrow CFA basement corridors.

For some, the artwork is an exhibition of UB students’ abilities.

“It offers students a venue which showcases their artistic abilities and creativity,” Kegler said.

For others, the artwork is a way of breathing life into the CFA.

“The murals turn an ugly, monochrome, bureaucratic building, into what it’s supposed to be – a Center for the Arts,” Kurtz said.

For the students, however, especially the seniors, the murals are more than just a lens to enhance the CFA’s atmosphere or a personal exhibition of talent – it is their final memento – the last goodbye to their school.

“This piece. It means I am leaving my final mark at the University of Buffalo before I leave,” Miller said. “The piece is filled with my feeling and emotion; it makes me feel good. It’s special to me.”

Brian Windschitl is an arts editor and can be contacted at