Metro State art students prepare to Level Up at the CVA this Friday

For fine art students at Metropolitan State University of Denver, graduating involves more than taking a couple of finals and ordering their cap and gown. A group of fourteen soon-to-be grads are preparing thesis presentations at the Center for Visual Art, putting together the show Level Up, which opens on October 25.

See also: 100 Colorado Creatives: Charlie Boots

The exhibition is part of the capstone course for fine art students. "It's a really amazing opportunity for them because they get to produce the exhibition from start to finish," says Cecily Cullen, creative curator at the CVA. "They work on their own press releases, they do their own announcement card, they lay out the show themselves, they do their own fundraising, they manage their reception. So really, they learn the whole process."

For Charlie Boots, one of the students in the exhibition, the experience renewed his respect for the work it takes to run a gallery. "It's actually kind of cool, to be honest, because it's all that stuff galleries deal with, only there's a lot of us dealing with the different parts of it," he says. "It gave me an appreciation for what galleries do and it's been kind of cool to see how everyone's ideas come together and how we can compromise to come up with a show that we'll all like."

Boots will be exhibiting paintings from his Candy series, which he has been working on since late 2012. "I take the candy logo and remove that part of it that's trying to sell you something," he explains.

He started the series as a response to his friend's ceramic work, which he called a "sculptural graphic novel," featuring a character named Bazooka Joe. Boots proposed to create cover art for it, like many artists do for the covers of graphic novels. "I drew this image of this skull blowing a bubble and in the bubble a fetus. I added a bubble gum logo and I felt like it could be really cool," Boots says.

He drew a portrait of his friend in the same style, and decided to add a Jelly Belly logo in a speech bubble. "I had those two drawings sitting around for a while and I never completed them. I was doing colored pencil that takes forever, and I kind of lost the passion for it. And one day I was like, 'God, these are so cool, I should come back to them,'" Boots recalls. "I was able to complete them as paintings and decided to do more."

Aside from his paintings, Boots's space in the exhibit will include balloons, confetti and a piñata. Although he originally thought to add the piñata to break the monotony that art shows can suffer from, he found that the symbol fit surprisingly well with his work. Not only are pinatas filled with candy, but they were originally used in religious rituals. "All my paintings have kind of a little bit of a religious reference if you go under the obvious," Boots adds.

Melanie Bindon, another Metro student, will be exhibiting her photography work at Level Up." I kind of wanted them to be resembling stop-motion animation stills, exploring childhood escapism with mythological references," she explains. "Mostly I wanted them to be a space where you could portray your own emotion into them, that's why all the figures facing away, I wanted you to be able to experience it as if you were those characters instead of objectifying them as they are."

The other artists in Level Up: Tim Arndt, Ish Bentley, Victoria Bradbury, Kim Denver, Antonia Fernandez, Andrew Flick, Lindsey McDermott, Ashleigh Moody, Lara Nickel, Jeff Olsen, Karley Overman and Tommy Valdez.

Although Boots confesses that he has never been a fan of school in general, he says his experience at Metro has allowed him to learn not only from his mentors, like professor Carlos Fresquez, but from his peers. "I've met some of the coolest people at Metro, and I can paint as well as I can paint right now because I've been around people who can paint better than me," he notes. "Like Antonia Fernandez, I saw her process and I was like, 'That's pretty brilliant, I'm gonna try that.'"

A free, opening reception for Level Up starts at 6 p.m. on Friday, October 25 at the Center for Visual Art. The event will also celebrate the opening of Creative Impulse: An Immersive Art Workshop, which will include a pop-up shop and collaborative murals in CVA's Emerging Artists Gallery. That's where other Metro students will be displaying their art for sale, and guests will have the opportunity to contribute to the murals with wheat-pasting and stenciling. There will be live music by Mandy Harvey and local food trucks, including the Vegan Van, parked outside.