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The New Mexico State University Department of Art will present this semester’s bachelor of fine arts exhibit “Abnormalities,” featuring the work of Jessica Clarke and Dylan Overheim. The exhibition invites viewers to take a deeper look at personal anxieties and genetic commonalities among us through oil and charcoal techniques. The digital exhibition will open at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 9 via Zoom video conferencing. After the event, “Abnormalities” will continue to be available on the department website.

The student exhibition is online this year to maximize public safety as a result of coronavirus pandemic. Clarke, who will be graduating later this month, explained the difference between preparation for an online exhibit and an in-person exhibit.

“The process to prepare for an online exhibit I feel is not as rigorous as it would have been to prepare for the in-person exhibition,” Clarke said. “Instead of having to worry about the space, how our artwork will interact with this space and getting that space prepared, our focus became about the artwork itself.

“Things like making sure that we are getting really good pictures of the artwork so that when its being viewed online it’s as if it’s still being viewed in-person, or at least as close to in person as we can get it.”

Clarke was born and raised in neighboring El Paso. After taking art classes at the El Paso Community College, Clarke chose NMSU to continue her education and pursue a career in the art field. After graduation she plans to take a year off to prepare her portfolio to apply to graduate school.

Clarke’s work explores genetic commonalities found throughout her family and her awareness that these traits are shared by many different people from a range of backgrounds. She started off looking at eye colors or being double jointed and has progressed to broader shared traits like being able to roll your tongue or flipping your eyelid inside out.

“Jessica’s work takes a decidedly close look at the human body, or parts thereof, as a means of exposing our shared human vulnerabilities,” said Craig Cully, NMSU associate professor of painting and drawing, who mentored both Clarke and Overheim. “The works’ scale and microscopic attention to detail result in what may initially appear to audiences as abstract forms that slowly reveal themselves as to what they really are — flipped eyelids, twisted tongues and other such physiological aberrations that we often only perform in the bathroom mirror alone.”

Clarke hopes her artwork leaves a positive impact on her viewers. “I hope it helps people realize we have a lot more in common with each other then we think. I also hope it makes them question what kind of quirky things they might be able to do with their own bodies.”

Similarly, Overheim’s art reaches out to people who suffer from mental illness to let them know they are not alone.

“I hope my work reminds people that anxiety and depression are very real things that many people deal with on a daily basis and that their feelings about the world being in a state of unrest is widespread. These two themes go hand in hand.” Overheim said. “I think many people are suffering mentally from the state of the world right now and that won't be going away anytime soon. This is all very traumatic and we need to be here for each other.”

The Gallup, New Mexico, native transferred to NMSU from Santa Fe University of Art and Design after the school closed down. For Overheim, the transition of hosting the exhibition online has dampened the excitement of this achievement.

“As far as milestones go, this one feels banal,” Overheim said. “The celebration will all happen at a distance, and that makes me feel distant from the achievement. I realize that it is a big deal, but it doesn't feel like it.”

Overheim also has included a recent series of paintings in the exhibition that portray everyday scenes of life as it has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. “Empty tables caged in by fencing at a restaurant, vacant yards strewn with billowing trash cans and the gloved hand of a person simply pumping gas,” Cully said.

Overheim’s work not only “expresses the sensation of cognitive distress but also illustrates the impact it has on those who suffer from it,” Cully said, through his images, brush work and abstraction of forms using various sculptural techniques.

“Dylan’s paintings are a powerful statement about the effects and personal implications of mental illness,” Cully said. “Through his use of himself as the suffering protagonist in a series of highly realistic paintings, Dylan is able to depict, first-hand, the emotional and psychological toll that comes from disorders such as extreme social anxiety, mental depression and suicidal thoughts.

“All this work is created with a layering method Dylan invented that results in the appearance of these images peeling apart, simultaneously expressing the violent anxiety of our times and the hidden dangers that may lurk beneath every surface.”

Inspite of the alternate reality of graduating from college during a pandemic, Overheim is trying to keep his spirits high as he transitions into the next stage of his life. After commencement, he plans to take what he’s learned at NMSU to the art scene in Colorado where he will prepare to pursue a master’s degree.

The opening night of “Abnormalities,” exhibition will feature a virtual Q & A session with Clarke and Overheim at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 9 via Zoom video conferencing. To register, visit https://nmsu.zoom.us/j/95698021830. For more information on “Abnormalities” and upcoming events, visit https://artdepartment.nmsu.edu/  

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