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First of the BFAs to cross our path–Will Haughery at Tyler


Spring semester is when thesis shows bloom momentarily for BFAs and MFAs. We dash about trying to keep up and invariably fail, but our goal is to see who’s new, who’s ready, who’s interesting. With just three pieces in his BFA thesis show, Seriously Making Fun, Tyler senior Will Haughery is pretty convincing as someone to watch.

Will Haughery and the back of his head in a stele-shaped box as tall as he is.

Haughery, who comes from the Lancaster area, is an amiable young man with a healthy dose of perspective on life as an artist. He gets the p.r. side of things–he sent a personalized email inviting us to see his work, and he was eager to make himself available to walk us through the exhibit.

The most impressive of his pieces, a black wooden sarcophagus/stele with a circular cut-out for a video screen, is a sort of self-portrait–of the back of the artist’s head. A small jiggle indicates the screen is video, and the height is Will’s size. The high-gloss surface is reflective enough to mirror the viewer–without providing intimacy.

As self-portraits go, this one is not giving much away, but the vulnerable neck and the thick tangle of hair provides surprising intimacy amid all the distancing strategies. Tangles of hair and napes of necks are anything but neutral!

When I met Haughery at the Stella Elkins Gallery downstairs at Tyler, he told me he was thinking about a museum display. What I was thinking were thoughts about hiding, death, impermeability, vulnerability, closeness and distance, memory and loss, and time and immortality.

Will Haughery’s baby elephant learns a lesson.

The other piece that hit the spot was a stake with a rope, plus a heart-felt image of a young Indian elephant tethered to a stake.  Haughery told me that circus elephants when still calves get tied up like this to train them to stay in place. When the rope is eventually removed, the elephants still behave as if they are tethered. The image, in an aqueous medium on unstretched canvas, has a direct, Roberto Clemente-ish approach to shape and medium.

Like the video self-portrait, the tethered elephant is a self-portrait! But this one is endearing, without the art-world cool. Haughery grew up in a religious household, where he was home-schooled by his mother. He said with wry humor that he is the black sheep of the family–the only one of his brothers who isn’t religious.

Will Haughery, installation shot showing the stake, rope and elephant, and a corner of the third piece, a steel wool egg

Time has help Haughery get to where he is. He’s a couple of years older than his peers at Tyler, having taken time off to work in construction. When he had enough of that he applied to art school. But right now, what really was on his mind was how he was going to pay back his student loans. Art may have to take a back seat, he said.

Seriously Making Fun ran Jan.19 to 22.