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Powerful ‘Hindsight’ Series By Newtown Native Part Of 2021 WCSU MFA Thesis Exhibition



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A Newtown native is among the artists with work featured in this spring’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Thesis Exhibition hosted by Western Connecticut State University (WCSU).

Illustrator Ryan Ames is one of six candidates for Master of Fine Arts degrees with works on view, being presented for the second consecutive spring as a virtual exhibition by the Danbury-based university.

The exhibition also includes works by painter Alison Booth of Sherman, painter David Flook of Bridgewater, painter and art educator Rachel Rossier of Bethel, illustrator, painter, and mixed media artist Kathleen Spezzano of Woodbury, and mixed media artist Jennifer Sullivan of Avon. The exhibition is the capstone experience for those in the two-year program at WCSU.

Due to the continued COVID-19 pandemic, the public is not allowed to visit the VPAC Gallery at WCSU. Instead, the public is encouraged to visit wcsu.edu/art/gallery/exhibitions, then click on the link for the 2021 MFA Thesis Exhibition.

Online guests can then take a virtual tour of the gallery, viewing the exhibition through individual images of the show. Visitors are also invited to access links to each candidate’s artist statement, biographical notes, and exhibition portfolio.

Ames graduated from Newtown High School in 2010, and earned a Bachelor of Arts in media studies and studio art from WCSU in 2014.

He then worked for a Silicon Valley firm for several years as a project manager, engaging in freelance projects including packaging and design, logo creation, and children’s book illustrations, according to his 2021 MFA artist statement.

It was after the third-generation Newtown resident returned to Connecticut to pursue his MFA studies that he revitalized his personal work.

Ames’s artistic passion is editorial illustration, mixing conceptual design and symbolic language to encapsulate a story and educate the viewer on both familiar and new subjects.

“I love taking someone’s stories and highlighting it without words,” Ames, 28, told The Newtown Bee this week. “It’s like a game or a puzzle to me: how to say the most with the least amount of imagery.”

His five works featured within the MFA show make up his “Hindsight” series. While these are not editorial illustrations in the sense of illustrating someone else’s story, they do say a lot with designs that are deceptively innocent. They appear simple, but each work speaks volumes.

The signature work in the series, “Hindsight” depicts a small child wearing a backpack, facing a wall. The child’s shadow is not that of a child, however; it is a young adult or adult in a cap and gown, getting ready to graduate.

At the child’s feet, where its eyes are looking, are two bullets.

It is one of five in the series, each showing a child or two in the foreground and their potential adult counterparts in shadow. One way or another, bullets or their scars appear in each image.

All of the works are acrylic on canvas, and each is a large scale piece. Four measure 30 by 40 inches, while the title piece measures 60 by 48 inches. Each has three dominant colors — black and white, and one additional color. With “Hindsight,” the third dominant color is green.

It is a powerful series. It was done, the artist said this week, because Ames decided to take “a big step” with his work.

“For the past five years, I’ve done freelance work for other people. I’ve never taken a social stance with my artwork, I’ve not taken a political stand, but now I think it’s time,” he said. “It’s about me finally putting my voice into my art, and selecting the most important topic to me.”

“The most obvious, and most prevalent for me, is gun control and reform,” he shared. “It’s the one I’m most passionate about, for sure.”

Ames was 20 years old, two years out of high school, he said, when 12/14 happened in his hometown.

“Unfortunately, we are reminded of the horrors of gun violence too often in this country, yet only act or start debate after a tragic loss. Many times, money and personal game outweigh the safety of our population,” Ames said April 12. “It is our responsibility to protect the youth of this country and with every young life lost, we are not only losing a child, neighbor, or friend, but squandering the potential role models and heroes of our nation.”

“Squander” is the title of another piece in the series, this one lamenting the loss of a potentially award-winning academic. “Forestall” has a child standing behind their school desk — the front of the desk and part of a nearby wall pockmarked with bullet holes — with the adult shadow depicting a man speaking at a podium.

“A lot of these images resonate with me, as you can probably tell from the engagement proposal shadow of ‘Retrospect,’” he said, referring to another piece in the series, this one with a red background. In that work, a boy is kneeling in front of a girl, who is holding on to a teddy bear. In the work’s reflection, the kneeling male is holding a ring box in one hand. He is holding the standing female’s hand in his other.

Ames will be marrying fellow Newtown High School graduate Kateleen Foy this summer.

The collection depicts the heartbreak of children lost to gun violence around the world. It represents a break from the digital mold of his previous works, using an unconventional painting process with stenciling and acrylics. The works are stark in presentation and message.

The 2021 WCSU MFA Spring Thesis Exhibition can be viewed on the WCSU website until April 22.

It will then be featured at Blue Mountain Gallery in the Chelsea art district of New York City, June 22 through July 10.

“That’s one of the great features of the MFA program,” Ames said this week. “They set this up for you two years in advance.”

Ames may show pieces or the full “Hindsight” series again. He may expand it, or not. He was unsure this week.

“I think I might tackle different social reforms I’m passionate about,” he said. “That’s undecided.”

With a birthday this month, a graduation next month, another exhibition of his “Hindsight” series in June and July, and a wedding this summer, Ames is taking a lot of big steps. Advocacy with his art is yet another.

Ryan Ames stands within the installation of his “Hindsight” series, part of the 2021 Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition at Western Connecticut State University. The Newtown native returned to his hometown after five years on the West Coast to pursue his MFA studies at WCSU. —Kateleen Foy photo
The signature work in the collection is the largest — “Hindsight,” a 60- by 48-inch acrylic on canvas. The shadows of the forms depicted in each work in Ames’s series depict “the lost opportunity the children and the country lost in their passing,” according to the artist. —Ryan Ames photo
“Retrospect,” also from the “Hindsight” series, is a 40- by 30-inch acrylic on canvas.
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