Arizona artists look back on their last year at UA

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Courtesy John Nofs

"Product of the American Dream" by Oliver Padilla, a UA photography graduate student, on display at the UA Museum of Art. Padilla is a photography graduate student.

Artists can be perfectionists, spending countless hours and stress towards their work to be displayed to the world. For graduating seniors and master’s students at the UA, finally experiencing the fruits of their labor honed throughout the year is as rewarding as it is emotional.

Chris Burtt, a 27-year-old music major graduating with a bachelor’s in composition, focused all of his efforts over a year into directing, playing in and writing his 50 minute, multi-piece capstone recital, “Apex.” 

In reflecting the highs and lows of this process, Burtt strongly recalls a moment of feeling discouraged before his successful recital.

“It was another day of many rehearsals, my second to last one, with my string quartet. Up to that point, they had not yet run through my piece successfully,” Burtt said. “While playing through, they kept messing things up and things got so out of sync that they stopped playing. We tried again, and they didn’t make it through. I realized that we weren’t going to have time for another rehearsal, and it was three days before my concert. We closed the rehearsal up, and I leaned over and put my face in my hands. My eyes started to water, and my body felt like it was tingling. I was anxious, and sad, and really defeated. I thought they weren’t going to be able to play it on stage and get through it.”

Chris Burtt plays the piano to practice for his encore in a concert. Burtt is graduating with a bachelor's in composition.

For Burtt, the day of the recital was his highest moment, especially when the string quartet skillfully performed throughout the performance.

“It was insane, considering the first violin player forgot his music at home and printed out the wrong version of the piece and improvised and made it to the end,” he said. “My mom was sitting in the front row, crying her eyes out, and it was the best piano I have ever played in my life.”

For Zuri Torres, a 22-year-old student receiving a bachelor’s in Fine Arts from the UA Film and TV production school, the process of graduating is exhilarating and frightening. As a Latina woman, she looks forward to making a mark in the filming world. 

“The film industry is dominated by men and I feel, as a minority and a woman, it will be challenging,” Torres said. “Sometimes, when I interned, men would work around you or they would assume that you didn’t know certain things, so you had to show them that you were capable and that you knew your stuff.”

A still from "Dios Nunca Muere (God Never Dies)," which was directed by Tanya Núñez and produced by Annika Williams and Zuri Torres and also premiered at this year's I Dream in Widescreen event. Torres is graduating with a Bachelor's in Fine Arts from the UA film and TV production school.

Since 2016, Torres has been involved in working with Cinemexico, collaborating with undergraduate student Tanya Núñez and Vicky Westover, the Program Director of the UA’s Hanson Film Institute, to put together “Dios Nunca Muere” (God Never Dies), a film following the moving story of an undocumented immigrant mother.

“Dios Nunca Muere” was shown with other BFA student films at the I Dream in Widescreen showing on April 29, and was awarded the Tucson Film Office New Filmmaker Award.

RELATED: 'I Dream in Widescreen' spotlights student films

To graduate the program, like other production students, Torres had to write and continually edit script, assist filming, work with the actor auditioning process, borrow limited filming equipment, keep a “Bible” of costs and all the film information and also work on a separate and additional pilot episode pitch to a producer. 

Though Torres said she would ideally jump right into working in film after graduating, she acknowledged that she has to financially prepare first. 

“I’m not planning on staying in Tucson,” Torres said. “I’m going to work briefly, and then temporarily teach English in South Korea. Hopefully, after that, I’ll have saved up enough money to move to California or New York. Unfortunately, though they’re the film capitals of the country, they also happen to be the most expensive places to live.” 

Japheth Paul, a 27-year-old student graduating this semester with a Masters in Graphic Design and Illustration, took a year to put together his exhibit “Indian Unrest” at the UA Museum of Art.

Japheth Paul displays his exhibit "Indian Unrest" at the UA Museum of Art. Paul is graduating with a Masters in Graphic Design and Illustration this semester.

The exhibit shows Paul’s experiences with India’s social and cultural landscape. It features video, sound and text to engage viewers in Indian society, where the national anthem of religious acceptance is ignored and “identity-based politics” and the “abuse of power” persist. 

For Paul, finally seeing people witness his work is the most rewarding result of finishing his master of fine arts program.

“I think the high was seeing everything finally set up and seeing the audience respond to the opening day,” Paul said. “I wanted to put the audience or viewer in the landscape of India, so you can see the diversity and religious symbolism, which is everywhere there. The other idea is showing the process of India as a secular country, which is why the flag is used, with each color representing Christianity, Islam and Hinduism.”

Oliver Padilla, a UA photography graduate student, worked for nearly a year to put together his piece, “Product of the American Dream,” a 3D installation of a fast food stand that’s on display in the UA gallery of art, along with other graduate student’s works.

RELATED: School of Art's MFA exhibition showcases student work

Padilla’s “Product of the American Dream,” calls attention to underprivileged Americans who are “condemned to the underclass by institutionalized structures of poverty” in the ethnic, social and economic systems of the United States. For Padilla, this project was political, and he enjoyed being present on gallery days.

“It was rewarding to see people react to the structure,” Padilla said. “People were very intrigued by it, and trying to go into the space, despite the barrier. Usually, there’s a performer in there and people would try to interact with them, but the performer would only respond through the [drive-thru] intercom. I wasn’t sure if they liked it, but they certainly were intrigued.”

Looking back, though Padilla thought that watching his work come together for the Master of Fine Arts reception was the highlight of his year, he said that getting his piece ready for exhibition proved to be the most challenging.

“The hardest part was making sure it was done on time,” Padilla said. “We work on these for years, planning and making sure everything goes smoothly. We only had three days to install [our work] in the museum, and it wasn’t something we could construct there. It was something that had to be planned out meticulously, especially the details.”


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