Piece by Piece: Eana Agopian’s collages earn her UICA’s Fresh Pick award

Ready to board a plane for Mexico last May, recent Kendall College of Art and Design graduate Eana Agopian checked her email one last time.

To her surprise, she had a message notifying her she had been selected for UICA’s Fresh Pick Award, an honor that recognizes an emerging artist and KCAD grad with a solo exhibition at UICA.

“I’m really grateful to show my work at the UICA,” she said. “It’s an incredible opportunity. The space there is amazing. They are giving me a lot of flexibility on how to show the work and what I’m showing.”

Created in 2015, the Fresh Pick Award honors one student in KCAD’s graduating class who shows a high level of talent and potential. UICA curators visit the school’s annual student exhibition in the spring to scout the students’ work, said Katie Zychowski, UICA’s marketing and communications coordinator.

Agopian’s thesis exhibition, Occultation: Conceal/Reveal, received the Fresh Pick Award for 2016, and she debuts a new body of work in her spring UICA exhibit, Interlace, on display April 8-Aug. 6.

She graduated in 2016 with a master’s degree in fine arts in printmaking and works in multimedia collage and embroidery, along with a part-time job at the Grand Rapids Art Museum in the gift shop.

Her collages incorporate elements of screenprinting, etching, photograms, hand-colored photo transfers, acrylic paint, mica powder, and found material. She plans to show some origami pieces and a sculptural work in the UICA exhibit, as well new collage pieces with a lighter and brighter feel.

“I don’t feel like my work always fits into the realm of contemporary art, but it is contemporary art,” she said. “I’m kind of going in a different direction with the folding paper pieces and origami. … I like having a deadline and knowing where the work is going to go, rather than what the work is actually going to look like. I like to know how people are going to view it.”

Prior to moving to Grand Rapids, Agopian studied art education and fine art photography at Western Michigan University’s Gwen Frostic School of Art and helped organize art, music and food events for several years in Kalamazoo. She also studied photography and alternative darkroom processes at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, where her interest in light-based image capture shifted from photography to printmaking.

UICA’s Exhibition Curator Heather Duffy said Eana’s thesis exhibition stood out immediately to her, despite some great competition.

“The collages, etchings, threadworks and photograms in that series were intricate, meticulous and expertly-designed,” Duffy said. “I returned to see them more than once, and each time was left wanting more. … We’re planning to really transform the gallery space with her exhibition design.”

Agopian’s love of collage goes back to high school art class.

“We’d buy jugs of glue and we’d collage all day,” she said. “I had a hard time of focusing on one simple image.”

Agopian incorporates a lot of vintage imagery into her work, cutting out old photos from nature and children’s encyclopedias and National Geographic, and allowing the materials and processes to guide the creation. Built layer upon layer, the image evolves as a reaction to the previous stage.  

“I appropriate a lot of imagery, but I also alter it from the original source material so that it all kind of changes in the end,” she said.

According to her artist’s statement, her work draws upon “themes of alchemy, psychology, and various modes of sensual perception to explore realms of the unknown” and “explores the mysteries of the world as illustrated by nature guides and encyclopedia diagrams.”
When asked to elaborate on those concepts:

“People should come and see the show,” she said. “It’s so hard to describe in words the kind of work that I do, they need to come and see it with their own eyes. I really want to make work that speaks for itself when you see it.”

MEGA 2017

In another effort to give art students more exposure, UICA every spring also hosts a juried exhibition of graduate students and recent graduates from across the state. The Michigan Emerging Graduate Artists (MEGA) exhibition, on display April 8-July 31, showcases a variety of works in a variety of media from graduates and master’s students studying at Michigan colleges. It is held in collaboration with the MFA Collective, a student organization at KCAD. Students apply in early February for consideration and works are reviewed by a panel of jurors. This year’s jurors include Heather Duffy, UICA exhibitions curator; Elizabeth Chodos, executive/creative director at Ox-Bow School of Art; and Taylor Renee Aldridge, an arts writer and curator based in Detroit.

Fresh Pick: Eana Agopian
Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (UICA) 
2 W. Fulton St., Grand Rapids
April 8- Aug. 6
Opening reception April 8, 6-10 p.m., Free
eanaappleagopian.com, uica.org, (616) 454-7000