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UND grad studies the human body to develop unique art

Bismarck native Brea Wike, a recent Visual Arts grad at UND, was named an emerging artist at the Grand Cities this past weekend. Wike, a painter at heart, specializes in human anatomy and landscapes. (Luke Franke/ Grand Forks Herald)1 / 3
Bismarck native Brea Wike, a recent Visual Arts grad at UND, was named an emerging artist at the Grand Cities this past weekend. Wike, a painter at heart, specializes in human anatomy and landscapes. (Luke Franke/ Grand Forks Herald)2 / 3
Bismarck native Brea Wike, a recent Visual Arts grad at UND, was named an emerging artist at the Grand Cities this past weekend. Wike, a painter at heart, specializes in human anatomy and landscapes. (Luke Franke/ Grand Forks Herald)3 / 3

In her four years studying visual arts and art history at UND, one of Brea Wike’s most important classes didn’t require her to use paint or canvas.

Instead, she studied dead bodies.

Before graduating this past spring, Wike spent her time at UND surrounded by friends who were medical and nursing students. Her long-time boyfriend studied biology and pre-med as an undergrad, and Wike took Anatomy 204 with him so she could study the human body for her work.

The class was known to be difficult even for nursing and pre-med students trying to get into medical school, but Wike wasn’t deterred.

“That was probably one of my better decisions of my undergraduate career,” she said. “Out of 260 kids, I was the only non-medical student in it.”

From that point, Wike’s interest in human anatomy and the skeletal system began to take off. She would study the human body whenever she could, from the five semesters she spent painting live nude models in school to when she would study her friends’ science textbooks.

“While they’d be into their studies I’d be flipping through their anatomy books and looking for inspiration for art,” she said.

On Display at Art Fest

Wike’s fascination with the human body was on full display this past weekend at the 2014 Grand Cities Art Fest. Wike was selected as one of two artists sponsored by the Northern Valley Arts Council Emerging Artist Program, which gives newer artists a free booth to display their work.

The scene was a study in contrast. Wike, a platinum blonde with piercing blue eyes, sat on a stool surrounded by paintings of skeletons and body parts rendered in sharp, scientific detail: a close-up of a knee joint; two lungs; a rib cage on a blue background with a mountain range running through the ribs.

Wike’s attention to anatomical detail blends well with her overall skill as a painter. Some of her pieces seem to be a cross between nude portraiture and anatomical diagram, as if projecting an X-ray onto a realist painting. Others include landscapes, which she used to paint more before she became interested with the human body. Now, landscape and anatomy are often combined, such as in a piece where a human skeleton appears to be floating high above a lake while the rib cage fades into a mountain range on the horizon.

As an emerging artist, Wike had a booth with prime location in the Grand Forks town square.

Wike said she had never been to Art Fest during her four years in Grand Forks, so she didn’t know what to expect when she came in.

However, she was impressed with the venue and sold around $600 worth of smaller works.

“It was nice to see how many people were out and how many different groups of people were out,” she said. “It was a breath of fresh air knowing that people in the community are involved and as interested in art as I am.”

In addition to her sales, Wike said she was even more pleased with the interest people showed when they came to her booth.

“I had a lot of people stop by and actually take their time to look through all the pieces and ask me about my concepts and ideas,” she said.

Bismarck and beyond

Wike’s path to studying art at UND began in her hometown of Bismarck, where she began taking art classes outside of school at age five. A number of influential teachers kept her interested.

When she got to high school, Wike’s art teacher gave her the opportunity to explore

“She was a lot more free with us, but that allowed me to do my own thing,” Wike said.

Her “own thing” became attention to medical and anatomical detail, which eventually blossomed when she studied cadavers and live models during her years at UND.

While in Grand Forks, Wike participated in shows both on and off campus, including a woman’s art exhibit last spring hosted by the Blue Door Gallery and Studio. Most of the pieces she displayed were projects from classes, which demanded most of her studio time. However, Wike also said most of her school projects allowed her to paint how she would’ve painted anyway.

When she isn’t painting or drawing, Wike trades her sketchpad for skates. She played center in hockey until she graduated high school, continued to played intramurals in college and is still up for a pick-up game whenever she can find one.

“I’m a huge, huge, huge hockey fan,” she said.

Post-Grad Plans

With graduation now behind her, Wike is ready to work and paint for a year or two while she researches and visits graduate schools. She would like to return to school to develop her skills while exposing her works to more criticism.

Wike is currently transitioning from her studio space at UND’s Edmund Hughes Fine Arts Center to her new space downtown.

Wike said her bedroom in her new apartment has high ceilings and good light, which makes it a perfect fit for painting.

“I’m going to split my room as a half-studio, half-bedroom,” she said. “I’m just going to tarp it all up and make sure nothing spills on any floor or wall.”

In a perfect world, Wike said she would definitely like to support herself through her painting, but she has an economically safer option in mind that would still allow her to keep painting.

“I wouldn’t mind being some sort of small business owner and have my painting and my art be incorporated into that,” she said.

When asked about why she is still pursuing painting as a career goal, Wike acknowledges the support and encouragement she has received. But ultimately, the motivation is internal.

“I had a lot of positive feedback, but more so I do it for more therapeutic reasons,” she said. It just really helps me stay level-headed but also if I get frustrated with something it keeps me on track art-mind wise, because sometimes I have to be my own hardest critic.”

To contact Wike or see some of her work, she can be reached by email at

Garrett Richie
Garrett Richie is a general assignment reporter and digital writer for The Grand Forks Herald. Richie is a 2014 graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism and is formerly of The Ludington Daily News in Ludington, Mich. Have a good story idea? Contact Richie by either phone or email, both of which are listed below. If you would like to comment on a story, send a letter to the editor with Richie's name and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words, and all letters are subject to editing. Email to or mail to The Grand Forks Herald.
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