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Art & Art History
University of Mississippi

Q&A with BFA Mary Ellen Cobb

To view Mary Ellen’s BFA Thesis Exhibition, Made in Our Image, check out our Flickr page.
You’ll also be able to see more photos of his Q&A interview with the department.

Introduce yourself
My name is Mary Ellen Cobb and I am a graduating senior in the printmaking BFA program here at the University of Mississippi.

What type of artist do you consider yourself?
I just consider myself an artist. I’d say I’m very reactive [in my artwork] and I like to respond to things that affect me and people I know in a personal way. My work is also influenced by art history. I want there to become kind of connection in my work and just metaphysical, intellectual experience.

You mentioned art history what from art history influences you?
I had a great experience in my high school art history class that started the passion for a lot of Antiquities, particularly Greek and Roman sculpture. Then on to the Renaissance, Proto-Renaissance. That was when I first learned about Albrecht Durer who is a printmaker that I really admire. I appreciate his emphasis on the [human] figure not just for its physical properties but for its use in allegory and as a kind of transcendental imagery. That’s what I really liked about Albrecht’s work. Glorifying the body is one thing but it’s another to convey something that can still resonate with people across time and it is convenient because figure doesn’t require clothing. You don’t have to feel like something is trapped in a timeframe if the figure is completely nude.

In printmaking, what is your preferred technique?
A lot of my work is photolithography (non-toxic). I use the more economical take on traditional stone lithography. It was introduced me to early on, actually through pronto plate methods which is further on the economical scale. This requires more tediousness in the sense of you have to plan out your prints and you have to go through a lot of processes from sketch, to film, to plate. I also really liked it because it was the most direct representation of my hand and the mark that I wanted to make. I enjoy drawing and this was the most direct drawing method and that’s why I was attracted to it.

Why do you work on a large scale rather than a small scale?
I liked the idea of poster size because the work that I create is similar to icons to me. They have this idealized standard that I want. It can kind of serve as propaganda in a weird way but I like the idea that you can sit back and think about the artwork from a distance without having to get too close to it. I do delve into smaller artworks. They’re in my sketchbook right now. They’re probably going to be more of a 4” x 6”. But they kind of go hand in hand with the larger prints. You have a meditative process both in the larger format and smaller format.

Why the BFA program?
I had a professor ask why I wasn’t trying out and I really didn’t have a good reason other than I wanted to graduate on time, haha! The professor at the time said, “You should do it, just do it.” and I did! I asked a friend [that went through the BFA process] to look at all my artwork last minute, wasn’t even planning, didn’t have a fancy speech, anything. We laid out all of my artwork in my small apartment the weekend before the interviews and I told myself, “Okay, we’re going to do it!” I took a signup sheet and ever since then I found a good community in the printmaking world. It was really random but I’m really happy that I joined it [BFA program].

Since joining the BFA has been beneficial to you?
Yeah! We went to SGC (Southern Graphics Council International) last spring (2018) and it was a really big, eye-opening experience. It was really cool to see what other people were interested in and what kind of facilities are dedicated to printmaking. It was also interesting to see the interdisciplinary aspect of printmaking. You would see people with some kind of painting background or ceramics background [incorporating printmaking into their works]. All kinds of people that were drawn to printmaking and that was really encouraging that you have this kind of fluidity. We also visited St. Louis where our printmaking professor lived and worked for a little bit. Again, it’s great to see what other [schools] departments look like when it has more people attached to it or more funding, but it really made me appreciate our department better. Because we’re smaller and I get to see everybody and have a closer relationship with my peers which is really nice.

Could you share any experiences here in the Department of Art & Art History?
Man, I’ve had a lot of good experiences. This is going to sound really cheesy but Lauren Cardenas is one of the most influential, best changes that has occurred in my life. Her work ethic and how much she cares about her students and how much she’s been there for me has been, just her coming here has been important for me. In the printmaking community, a lot of people have been very welcoming and very positive. It was really important to me that I enjoyed the space and the people [I worked with]. I mean, it’s one thing to be passionate about your artwork but what do you do when you want to have a coffee break and you want to share that time with somebody? You can’t. It’s kind of awkward to just sit and look at your artwork. So, it’s nice to have people that I’ve really connected with. He’s not here right now but Spencer Pleasants was really big in making me feel welcomed here. All the conversations that I’ve had [are good experiences]. It’s really important here, especially since we are a small community in football, sports driven university. Seeking those people out and having that time together was really important, it really builds a sense of community. I don’t know if you can get that at bigger universities that have these glamorous, huge departments. It’s really nice [to be a part of a small department].

What are your plans after graduating?
I would like to get into some internships. I would like to have some active downtime in a sense where I’m not necessarily committed to a job or grad school, but I am feeling out how other programs are going to be. One internship I’m really excited about is called the Women’s Studio Workshop. It’s located in New York and I was really drawn to that because it’s an all women, all female group. It is really important to me to go see what it is like to be around a whole community of women in the art world. Their studio has a lot of interdisciplinary areas like ceramics, book arts, and photography, a lot of the things that I’m still interested in. I’ve also played around with the idea of staying and getting a BA in Art History. Basically, becoming the next Olivia Whittington is my goal, haha! I really enjoy Art History and I think that makes me a better artist, analyzing more things. There are a lot of potential opportunities, but right now it’s difficult to think about especially with my thesis coming up.

What advice do you have for incoming art students or students entering the BFA program?
It’s really easy to get absorbed into your area of emphasis but really try to invest time in these other classes that you have to take. It’ll make you happier to step outside of your main body of work. I think it makes you stronger as an artist to bring those other elements into your artwork. There’s a good bit of surrendering yourself in not having expectations, not in a sense like you can’t have standards for yourself, 100%, but go with what intuitively feels right and not necessarily get so caught up [in the concept]. There’s getting caught up in the concept and then there’s letting the concept take you where it needs to. And also, give yourself a break. You’re going to be constantly changing and growing. It might feel frustrating but really give it time and take a break from your work. I had new opinions about my work after a whole summer and that time away from the process is really important. Just be open to possibilities.

Interviewer: Frank Estrada | Photographer: Olivia Whittington