Academics Arts and Humanities

Meet the University of Miami artists of Art Basel

As Art Week draws near, graduate students who are pursuing a master’s in fine arts open up about the inspiration behind their featured work.
Art Basel, University of Miami, Fine Arts
Artist Jessica Dehen pictured in her studio. Photos and video: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami

Nadine Hall was incredulous when she found out she would have the opportunity to showcase her artwork on a global scale.

“To be a part of Art Basel is more than a dream come true. Moving from Jamaica just a few months ago, I’m in awe with this new reality that UM has offered me,” said Hall, a first year MFA graduate student.

Hall is one of 13 students who have worked countless hours to create pieces of art that define who they are as rising artists. Through hard work and dedication, each of them has produced pieces that have been shaped through unique and amazing personal stories.

From their on-campus studios, as they applied their finishing touches before submitting their work for Art Basel, the artists shared their stories.

Kim Bauldree

BauldreeFor Bauldree, attending the University of Miami was key because of its proximity to addressing the greatest threat of our time, climate change. Through her art, she’s addressing these issues and hopes to expand the conversation by engaging people’s feelings about the matter.

“I love the environment here at UM because I feel like it brings me closer to the subject matters I want to focus on, which are essentially Florida water issues. Miami is ground zero for climate change and sea level rise, and I hope my art will bring more attention to it.”

Ileana Toliba

IlleanaThrough the creative process, Toliba has found a way to reconnect with her Cuban identity after many years of hiding it through abstract forms and shapes. Her studies in Cuban Art, Art History, and the Creation of the Modern Cuban Subject with assistant professor Erica Moiah James helped her define her style and express her emotions and ideas through dream worlds and poetry.

“My artwork for Art Basel is inspired by dream landscapes. A lot of my content has to do with the search for my Cuban identity. I arrived to the United States when I was 16, so there was a lot of myself that I lost. Now, through my painting, I’m bringing it back. I always refused to paint anything that had to do with my culture, like palm trees and flowers, and now funny enough I’m feeling more comfortable incorporating these aspects. UM has helped me open up about my culture.”


Monica Travis

Travis is an experienced sculptor who has recently undergone a tremendous diversification in her artwork through her work at the University. She’s now working across disciplines with colleagues in the College of Engineering and School of Communication to create unique experiential installations that engage and educate audiences about different political issues. This year during Art Basel, she’s not only determined to make it impossible for people to ignore issues on deforestation but hopes to inspire them to take action on enacting change.

“The artwork I’ve chosen to submit is an installation that deals with deforestation and the idea of capitalism

 and how that has affected our environment. I get most of my ideas just by the things that are going on in the world around me.”

Melissa Tychonievich

MelissaTychonievich likes to work on various pieces at once to see which she feels the strongest about. Although she was happily consumed by the work she was creating for this exhibition, she longed for something more proactive. That led her to finding inspiration from where she least expected it: a classmate.

“I’ve always struggled with color and fighting back with flatness, but I see these paintings are going somewhere. Another graduate student, named Sidney, posed for me and became my source of inspiration. I feel comfort in painting people I know and there’s something about that which has turned into the core of my studio practice.”

Charlisa Montrope

One semester has made all the difference in how Montrope creates art and sees the future. She’s grown as Charlisaan artist by experimenting with new techniques but also in knowing how she wants to pay it forward for the emerging artists of St. Lucia.

“I specialize in printmaking. I started off this program very timid and scared of experimentation. When I began here, I kept being told to dive in more with my work, so one day I decided to take a chance using new techniques. Once I graduate, I want to go back to the country where I was born—St. Lucia. I’m thinking of opening a gallery space for other artists to come and do residencies there. We have artists, but we don’t have galleries. I want to give other artists the opportunity to grow.”

Elizabeth Guignino

ElizabethIn her studio, Guignino has created a whole new world full of whimsical little creatures made of clay. Each creature has its own unique personality, which directly expresses her thoughts, feelings, and emotions at the time she was creating them.

“My education in undergrad was in pottery and vessel making, and that was very perfectionist oriented. When I got here, my goal was to find the freedom with the medium, so I started working on hand building and found the freedom within the clay itself. That led me to create these playful vessels that play on gesture and relationships which are important to me.”

Lance Layman

LanceLayman has only been at the University for a few months, but he believes he’s learned more technical skills here than he has in his whole life as an artist. He said his submission for Art Basel is inspired by the cultural movements of the times.

“I’ve created this work of art during a period where our society continues to watch institutions fall in 2019. I think it’s an important thing to document and possibly celebrate.”


 Jessica Dehen

Dehen spoke about how unconventional art tools have inspired her art. She’s using them to make marks in her work and in her style as an artist. She thinks her colorful abstract work is a representation of her roots in South Florida.

“My work is highly influenced by color and where I’m from, which is South Florida. I didn’t really realize that until I stepped back and analyzed it. The saturation of the colors and vibrancy of Miami plays a huge role in how my work has panned out.”

The New Works: UMFA 2019 exhibition also features works by graduate students Talia Ceravolo, Christine Di Staola, Sidney Sherman, and Courtney Schmidt.

The exhibition will run from Dec. 2 to Jan. 17 at the University of Miami Wynwood Gallery. The opening reception is open to the public and will take place on Saturday, Dec. 7 from 6 to 9 p.m.