A BFA program built to expand one's art practices

For Eric Wagner (BFA ‘23), studying at PAFA is about having the space and time to try

“It's been a pretty wild ride. I’ve gone through times of painting, and other times of drawing more and writing and all kinds of things. More recently I broke into sculpture so now I do sculpture all the time too.”

Coming to PAFA from the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP), Wagner says he wanted a serious program that was extremely arts-focused. With PAFA a few blocks from CCP, it fits the bill and has been suitable for Wagner.

The BFA program here allows students to study across six departments, animation, drawing, illustration, painting, printmaking, and sculpture.  

“Being here kind of opened up the opportunity for so many different things. I’ve taken printmaking classes and been super into printmaking. And then like branching into the difference between woodcut and relief. There have been these jumps where I’m exposed to a lot and it kind of just expanded a lot of what I thought possible.”

And with a preference for studio classes versus more traditional academy study, Wagner has made the most of all the classes PAFA offers.

“It's kind of funny because all of my favorite classes are the studio classes where you're really doing stuff.”

But Wagner has been making art long enough to know what he likes.

He began painting as a child and studied with a family friend who taught art to the local community. He jokes that he was painting seriously then because he was a “super serious” child.

Here at PAFA, he said painting from observation became a ritual. But he’s added another layer to the process and his work. After creating a series of what he calls very emotional, expressionist paintings, he started sculpting in stone.

“But when I start a sculpture, I have a rough idea of what I'm going to be looking for and start chipping away at the stone. And things will just start falling off. I have these paintings that are very much in conversation with sculpture. They're all very expressive and energetic.”

Wagner’s sculptures and paintings are on view at PAFA as part of the Annual Student Exhibition (ASE) through June 4, 2023.

As he looks past the ASE and graduation, Wagner is considering grad school in the future. “I’m open to anything happening. So I'm going to take the time to keep working and keep developing. From being here I feel like I've got a solid standing to develop something.” 

About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America's first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the fine arts, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and a world-class collection of American art. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks, Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.