10 MFA Grads on the Rise in 2022
It’s often difficult for young artists to find their footing in the art world, but this moment feels particularly fraught: We’re in the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic; the seven warmest years on record have all been since 2015; and inflation in the United States is surging. In times of such duress, many young and emerging artists are reconsidering their relationships with the world around them by pondering existential questions about identity, environment, and religion.
The MFA class of 2022 is no exception, and many recent grads are either implicitly or explicitly tackling these subjects in their work. These burgeoning artists are using a variety of different media—from sculpture to installation to painting—to ask thoughtful questions about pressing issues, such as: What does it mean to visually reckon with climate change? How can we imagine alternative realities?
Below, we spotlight 10 artists who graduated from MFA programs in 2022 who are engaging with these and other salient questions of our time.
B. 1997, New Jersey. Lives and works in New York.
Portrait of Amy Bravo by Cornelius Tulloch. Courtesy of Amy Bravo.
A recent graduate of Hunter College’s MFA studio arts program, Amy Bravo creates intricate mixed-media tableaux filled with multifaceted mythologies that seem to transport viewers to another world. Figures wrought from paint, graphite, and thread intermingle with one another to tell stories about everything from the artist’s Cuban and Italian heritage to her personal rituals. For example, her piece The Waiting Room (2022) shows a skeleton, a winged figure, and a horse on a shrinelike support. Each element of the composition appears to contain nested symbols, and even the animal in the painting nods to the artist’s paternal grandfather, a Cuban cowboy.
“It’s like a mythology creation, a world building,” Bravo said of her creations. “I need them to feel super expansive and big and like something you could step into or like things could step out of them. I want them to try and climb out into our world.”
B. 1996, London. Lives and works in London.
Portrait of Emma Prempeh. Photo by Ellyse Anderson. Courtesy of Emma Prempeh.
Emma Prempeh’s work feels like a collection of tea-stained memories: The Royal College of Art–trained artist renders dynamic portraits from old family photographs. Though many painters have turned to their relatives for subject matter, Prempeh breathes new life into family heirlooms by blending painted figures with other media like gold leaf, found fabric, and print. For instance, her canvas The Arrival (2021) depicts a woman stepping out of a building and into the outside world. The piece initially may seem like a rendition of a female figure, but it actually provides a view into the artist’s psyche, asking viewers to consider what it means to step into—or out of—our homes.
“I feel like we experience most of our lives through our own eyes,” Prempeh said. “But there are also these things that you can’t necessarily grasp. That’s why I thought I should put in the text, the fabrics, and the plain space, which is something I only began to experiment with going into graduate school.”
Some pieces like Red, White, Blue and Brown (2020) speak to these differences in perception. The piece portrays Prempeh’s mother as a child. The image has a hazy quality—the aforementioned figure is rendered in blurred brushstrokes, and her body is twisted, so we can’t see her straight on. Perhaps this lack of clarity speaks to the history of the image: The artist wanted to convey the complexities of her Ghanaian and Vincentian heritage in her adopted home of England.
“I also wanted to highlight joy as well, because [memories] can be really dark,” Prempeh said. “I think about the past and what we had to do in [England]. I think about how we were treated, so I wanted to show my mother sitting and celebrating.”
Prempeh previously won the Ingram Collection Purchase Prize and was selected to participate in Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2019. This year, she also won the Valerie Beston Trust Arts award.
B. 1990, Columbus, Ohio. Lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut.
Portrait of Rachael Anderson by Rebecca Copper. Courtesy of Rachael Anderson.
Flowers, fauna, and fruit teem at the edges of Rachael Anderson’s paintings, which are imbued with ecological quandaries and powerful reckonings with the nature of time. These ethereal works feel like portals, and the Yale graduate primarily uses traditional media like oil paint to create worlds in which life cycles regenerate and plants are all powerful.
“I think about material meeting life,” Anderson said. “I [often] like to paint from observation. I feel like when I’m looking at something for a long time, it kind of possesses my body. There’s a sort of loss of self in a way where I sort of immerse myself in these things that I’m painting.”
Rachael Anderson, Terrestrial Twins Portal, 2022. Photo by Rachael Anderson. Courtesy of the artist.
This is why plants take center stage in Anderson’s oeuvre, and paintings like Toxic Spring (2022) don’t feature humans at all. Yet some works do include people: Terrestrial Twins Portal (2022), for instance, shows two umber-tinged figures who are partially obscured by leaves; they look down at the half-eaten apples sitting in their laps, sitting cross-legged. The presence of such a fruit makes it easy to draw biblical connections to this work, but that wasn’t necessarily Anderson’s goal. Instead, the painter wanted to make a broader commentary about the interconnectedness of living things, about how our bodies change when we consume food.
“I’m interested in interconnectedness,” Anderson said. “I often think about how living organisms are basically made of different things. I also think about female desire and how my aesthetics are very much a product of queer feminine sexual desire. I think that my paintings have that sort of libido.”
Anderson’s work was recently included in Jeffrey Deitch’s “Vibrant Matters,” a group exhibition curated by Melanie Kress, featuring work by the 2022 Yale School of Art painting and printmaking MFA graduates. She also just completed a residency at the Royal Drawing School at Dumfries House in Scotland, where she created a series of small speculative landscape paintings and drawings depicting plants, animals, and other natural phenomena.
B. 1991, Honolulu, Hawaii. Lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut.
Portrait of Bhasha Chakrabarti by Merik Goma. Courtesy of Bhasha Chakrabarti.
Bhasha Chakrabarti uses fabrics, looms, and paints, among other materials, to contemplate topics that are both personal and political. Textiles provide a suitable substrate for considering such subjects, as generations of women have mended domestic items, like clothes and quilts, from the comforts of their own homes. By including fabric in her practice, the Yale graduate expands on the act of mending, bringing this practice into the public sphere as “a creative gesture that confronts fragility, vulnerability, and impermanence,” according to her artist statement.
“Hawaii has a really strong quilting tradition,” Chakrabarti said, reflecting on her upbringing in the state and her childhood fascination with fabric. “When I went to school in Hawaii, new curricula were being added into public schools, especially elementary schools, and they often focused on indigenous technology, history, music, and culture in an attempt to revive a lot of things that had been sort of banned or sidelined.”
Bhasha Chakrabarti, To be so Black and Blue (Chiffon as Shyama Sundara), 2021. Courtesy of the artist and M+B.
Bhasha Chakrabarti, To be so Black and Blue (Alani as Krishnaa), 2021. Courtesy of the artist and M+B.
Much of Chakrabarti’s work openly examines these historical quandaries, and the materials she uses are often ingrained with hidden meanings. For example, To be so Black and Blue (Chiffon as Shyama Sundara) (2021) depicts the artist’s friend and fellow textile artist Chiffon Thomas. In this tapestry, Thomas is bathed in blue—their skin is rendered in navy shadows and white highlights, and they stand against an indigo backdrop of used clothing and thread. Chakrabarti’s use of indigo was intentional, given that colonial powers created indigo plantations in both India and the American South during the 1700s, as Rohini Kejriwal wrote in Hyperallergic describing the work. Another work from this series, To be so Black and Blue (Alani as Krishnaa) (2021), also uses this hue to depict a figure who sits atop a background of geometric shapes and text.
Chakrabarti’s pieces were recently displayed in the two-person exhibition “Heartbreak Picnic” at Grove Collective in London. Her pieces were also included in the group exhibition “Vibrant Matters” at Jeffrey Deitch in New York, curated by Melanie Kress. Chakrabarti’s work will also be included in the gallery’s forthcoming group show “Wonder Women,” curated by Kathy Huang, in Los Angeles.
B. 1990, Clarksville, Tennessee. Lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut.
Portrait of Ashante Kindle by Ashley Layendecker. Courtesy of Ashante Kindle.
Ashante Kindle often creates circular compositions encrusted with thick, layered paint. The recent University of Connecticut graduate calls these “crowns”—intimate objects that are abstracted renditions of curly hairstyles, the tops of nappy heads viewed from above.
“I’m never able to create the same piece more than once,” Kindle said. “And I feel like that [abstraction] specifically speaks to our existence. It speaks to how we exist as people: Many of us [Black people] have similarities, but Blackness isn’t the same for everyone, right? And that’s really beautiful. And as far as hairstyles go, even if you bring an image of a hairstyle to your beautician, she’ll never make something exactly like that.”
With the Sky on Our Shoulders 9 (2022) is a perfect example of this: The round canvas shows swirls of gold paint converging at its center, and light accentuates the highest points of the piece. Other works, like Love to Keyshia #4 (2021), also use curved compositions to explore color—in this painting, a rich medley of orange, red, and blue.
“I really gravitated towards the circle,” Kindle said. “Recently, I’ve been looking at it as an otherworldly object, and I’ve been doing circular installations. They sort of feel like galaxies or planets. I’ve also started using some ovals more, and I feel that these forms speak to the history of photography as well.”
Kindle will join this year’s cohort of NXTHVN—a New Haven residency run by the painter Titus Kaphar—fellows this fall. She will also be featured in a two-person show with Khari Turner at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens this September. She will have a solo exhibition at Belmont University in March 2023.
B. 1998. Lives and works in London.
A recent Royal College of Art graduate, Georg Wilson uses bold colors like lemon yellow and cobalt blue to paint pictures and weave textiles that visually critique European myths and fairy tales. Instead of merely illustrating the stories from her youth, Wilson treats these stories as a springboard to examine folkloric traditions.
For example, in her painting Swan Rider (2022), Wilson shows a sinuously rendered, green-hued subject straddling a bird. The canvas seemingly references ancient folklore: The organic matter and water in the painting make it feel like we’re looking at a storybook drawing, and the animal in the piece recalls the myth of Leda and the Swan. Another one of Wilson’s recent pieces, Cobnut Season (2022), depicts lurid figures who become ensnared in verdant foliage as they tumble through a rolling countryside. These subjects appear inhuman—their proportions are exaggerated with wide-set eyes and too-small lips—resembling fairytale creatures more than people. According to a 2021 interview, these lush renderings are inspired by Christina Rossetti’s Victorian poem “Goblin Market,” which contains descriptions of poisoned fruits and vegetables.
“I have been driven to make work that explored gendered aspects of European mythology and fairy tales, with the intention to playfully reverse their traditional roles,” Wilson said in a 2020 interview with She Curates. “But I mostly want my paintings to be amusing. Despite the apparently sinister atmosphere of my ‘Goblin Market’ paintings where the roles of menacing goblin and fearful maiden are inverted, I hope viewers find my sulky girls endearing or funny.”
In 2020, Wilson was awarded the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant. She also co-founded All Mouth Gallery—a digital platform that supports emerging artists—with the multimedia creator Jack Chauncy.
B. 1992, Whittier, California. Lives and works in Los Angeles.
Prior to obtaining her MFA from the University of Southern California (USC) this year, Jessica Taylor Bellamy decided to hone her artistic practice, imbuing her work with layered meditations on pressing issues like environmental degradation and gentrification.
Even before she chose to pursue art as a career, Bellamy always had intellectual interests with a civic bent: She initially majored in political science and minored in painting as an undergraduate student at USC. Eventually, she realized that her classes in studio art often fostered similar, if not more fruitful conversations about philosophy and government than her political science courses.
Portrait of Jessica Taylor Bellamy. Courtesy of Jessica Taylor Bellamy.
“I was having a discussion in my painting class that was almost identical to the discussions we were having in a political philosophy class about identity,” Bellamy said. “It just felt like I could finally speak to those things. [I realized that] these are completely related.”
Now, Bellamy continues to draw these connections in her studio practice and used her time in graduate school to further develop her art. For instance, her painting Fire Followers (Sequoias) (2022) shows burnt trees and wildflowers juxtaposed with screen prints from the Los Angeles Times that feature quotes like “Waves of Fires in Palm Trees Laid to Youths,” which is an obvious nod to the effects that climate change has on California’s environment. Many of Bellamy’s other pieces, such as Artifact (Sky Bouquet) (2021), combine newsprints, charts, and infographics with paint, and these medleys of materials help the artist to create powerful images about our collective anxieties.
“I am really obsessed with actually making things,” Taylor Bellamy said. “I really am interested in [objects] and what meanings they [hold].”
Bellamy’s work was recently featured in Superposition Gallery’s show “RESILIENCE,” a group exhibition featuring 30 artists at Sag Harbor, New York’s Eastville Community Historical Society. Some of Bellamy’s pieces were also included in Lyles & King’s group show “The Tale Their Terror Tells.”
B. 1990, Mexico City. Lives and works in Chicago.
Portrait of Sofía Fernández Díaz. Courtesy of Sofía Fernández Díaz.
It’s hard to put Sofía Fernández Díaz’s practice in a box: The School of the Art Institute of Chicago graduate’s oeuvre is expansive, and she uses a variety of materials ranging from paint to beeswax to natural dyes. Even if it’s difficult to categorize her work, exploring ecology and nature remains a cornerstone of her practice.
“I was completely transformed when I began to understand that we can make materials from plants,” Fernández Díaz said. “The fact that we can make an array of colors from the natural world is huge. And it also speaks to the nature of the circle of life. [Working with natural materials just made] so much sense to me, and I want to teach others how to work with such materials just to be able to export that information and just share it because it’s ancestral to every culture, to every place in the world.”
Works like Untitled (2017) exemplify her use of organic materials. The multimedia sculpture employs beeswax, tepalcate, jadeite, and silk dyed with grana cochinilla to create a coral-like formation with ridged textures. Topografía (2017) uses a more two-dimensional approach to nod to such natural forms and uses crimson-colored avocado dye to create abstract forms. During her MFA program, Fernández Díaz was able to apply these themes to different contexts by incorporating other media—like video and performance—into her craft.
“My thesis was completely based on what it means for the body to move to space,” Fernández Díaz said. “It was an installation, but I didn’t have a lot of space. I definitely think of how to create an immersive experience through materials and elements.”
This fall, Fernández Díaz has several group shows coming up in Chicago, and she also recently exhibited her work in “Sintiendo D e s p a c i o,” an exhibition at UNAM Chicago.
B. 1992, Los Angeles. Lives and works in Newark, New Jersey.
Portrait of Grace Lynne Haynes. Courtesy of the artist.
Vibrant colors and anthropomorphic shapes make Grace Lynne Haynes’s multimedia pieces come alive. The Rutgers graduate uses collage-like compositions to tell compelling stories about identity and emotion, often employing bold hues to draw the viewer into everyday experiences. One collage, A Grand Welcome for the Outsider (2021), features two figures with outstretched arms and bent legs; they seem to rhythmically undulate around one another. Though her subject matter varies from piece to piece, Lynne Haynes consistently remains dedicated to visualizing the interior lives of Black women.
“My work represents the spirit of Black women,” Lynne Haynes said. “Often people will say that it looks like a self portrait, which is interesting, because it’s not a conscious decision that I’m making. But I will say that my opinions usually come from my imagination and depicting how I see women in my own painting.”
Some of her other pieces are more abstracted depictions of human interactions: When Two Collide (2021) depicts a surreal scene of two women who are conjoined at the head as they grasp one another in a rapt embrace.
These super-saturated images have popular appeal: Lynne Haynes’s illustrations have been featured on the cover of TheNew Yorker twice, and her work has also appeared in the pages of Vogue, Elle, and the Washington Post. She’s also represented by the Los Angeles gallery Band of Vices, where she had a solo exhibition in 2020.
B. Los Angeles.
athena quispe, Psychic Warp, 2022. Photo by Genevieve Hanson. Courtesy of the artist.
athena quispe, Psychic Warp, 2022. Photo by Genevieve Hanson. Courtesy of the artist.
athena quispe has always centered love in her practice. She uses her artistic abilities to open questions about migration, interpersonal relationships, and natural materials. The recent Yale graduate comes from a long line of Quechua textile weavers, and she often draws on her family’s time-honored traditions to create three-dimensional objects that tell stories about the past, present, and future. “I’m influenced and inspired by my family and my Andean lineage,” quispe said. “Solitude and writing poetry fuel me.
“I situate these sculptural paintings within the framework of removing the social and colonial imprint in our minds to address questions and issues of authorship,” quispe said. “Alas, as I continue to heal from the power dynamics experienced in academia, displacement, and gentrification, I’m committed to creating interactive installations that increase psychic and soul redemption to summon a power that mends our spiritual imbalance. Our healing now will heal the future.”
Many of quispe’s works use sculptures and installations to help and heal her audience, and she often uses natural materials to do so. For example, Psychic Warp (2022) is a three-dimensional object she created using steel, torched wood, incense, cochineal, ink, bodily fluids, pulverized rose quartz, and glitter on canvas. The artist often incorporates organic matter, like blood, in her work to strengthen connections between our bodies and objects, instilling her pieces with deep-seated ancestral force.
“My mother is a phlebotomist so I have vials of our blood that I use with intentional subtlety,” she said. “Our blood and Cochineal both have a genetic memory and source that carries stories, revealing truths about ourselves in this cosmic present. I’m fully reconnected to my ancestors and my heritage in my day to day when I harvest those wondrous clusters of cochineal parasites from Cacti to experiment with the pH of liquids, along with other ingredients that alter its range of hues.”
quispe recently showed Psychic Warp in the group show “Vibrant Matters” at Jeffrey Deitch, and will join this year’s cohort of NXTHVN fellows in New Haven this fall.