A Pair of Student Exhibitions Show the Promise of Public Arts Funding

Nightlight of Death by Evelyn Figueroa. Photo by Dave Barton

If there is any question whether increased funding on art programs in schools has met with success, one just has to take a trip to Irvine Fine Arts Center’s (IFAC) “High School Art Exhibition” and Golden West Gallery’s “GWC Student Art Show” to see that your tax money is being well-spent.

In IFAC’s juried show, artist Chantal deFelice has chosen an impressive scope of solid work, with nary a medium left untouched: There are paintings, drawings, graphic art, sculptures, photographs and pottery all on view. I was regularly amazed at both the diversity of vision and the high quality, with the best work focusing on the personal, the political, minimalism and the surreal.

Many of the pieces are portraits: Daniel Fernandez’s photo My Room features a young man lying in bed amid a hamster’s nest of sheets and blankets. Surrounded by knickknacks, clothing logos, art and an I HEART New York coffee cup, the white-blue of a cellphone illuminates his face in the darkness. A small boy looks as if he’s trapped metaphorically by two walls in Francesca Juarez’s 3 Shades of Blue, a triptych of blue photographs with a sharp emphasis on lines, shade and shadows. Joshua at Night is a photorealistic graphite drawing by Joshua Meyer of himself watching something out of frame. It’s a marvelous, detailed image, shaded perfectly, revealing a knowledge of scale, especially in the foreshortened fingers reaching for a stack of Oreos.

Among the political works, Parmis Abdoli’s untitled graphite drawing is a powerful in-your-face ecological statement: A turtle made from garbage gasps for air through a plastic straw as it swims through a polluted ocean, while Beatriz Dragojlovic’s The Power of Art is a colorful word graphic built around an Olafur Eliasson quote about art and empathy.

Kobayashi Taiga’s skilled, blood-red graphic Akashi is a screenprint with only a white haircut and a jacket with the word Sup providing personality. Jillian Yee’s minimalist trio about Palm Springs strips her imagery to palm trees, a giraffe and a mountain goat at the Living Desert Zoo, bookended by freeways snaking through pink mountains and two straight lanes passing a bluff.

The surreal stakes its territory in the inventive Sharing Time by Thomas Cho, a mixed-media drawing of clocks and circles and disembodied arms checking a wristwatch, as explosions of string art nailed to the canvas twist around it in elegant detail. Disembodied heads float in a blue-green plasma throughout Karen Fan’s acrylic The Sea of Emotion, their rosy cheeks elongating and splitting in mitosis. Avery Klaute and Ashley Trieu’s ceramic USB Becomes Bed is a brilliant little concept, the Standard-A USB plug shape-shifting into a set of pillows as the data-storage device becomes a tiny mattress and sheets.

The Lonely by Tiffany Guevara. Photo by Dave Barton

The collection at Golden West College, curated by gallery director Evan Senn, works with a smaller talent pool, with much of the work feeling more like standard class assignments than something with a particular vision or passion behind it, but there are standouts that break through that haze, especially in the graphic arts. The red, white and black umbrellas in a downpour resemble tiny flowers with legs in School Walk In the Rain by Diana Mai-Khanh Nguyen; Andrew Tran’s superb black-and-white Birds Over Hills and Nancy Parch’s Enigma—a red silhouette filled with flowers, set against a series of black criss-crossing geometrics—are equally impressive.

Likewise, Jean Hernandez’s Self-Portrait in a bulky hoodie, surrounded by floating fish, is surreally magical. Spooky and beautiful and perfectly painted, The Lonely by Tiffany Guevara shows a maturity of skill and an embrace of the unusual, as a young woman with a lantern encounters spirits passing through her while undead hands reach up from the ground. Jean Oh’s The Old Village is a large wall-hanging ceramic of crowded, aged buildings stacked next to and on top of one another amid the occasional tree, our eyes drawn to the white church near the top. The sponge-like curves and grooves of Freeform Vase by Tabitha Schnose resembles something you’d find in an ocean environment. The creepy/fun Nightlight of Death by Evelyn Figueroa is a box filled with decapitated Barbie heads, torsos, legs and arms, the perfect representative for every student show’s requisite emo doll-parts art piece. Vase of Acidity, also by Figueroa, a black-and-white photo of fruit in a glass vase, is about as perfectly modulated as you can get.

All of this serves as a reminder, of course, of how important it is for all of us to ensure that arts programs continue, so the way will be paved for these young artists to succeed. The future will be bright, but only if we fund it.

The Old Village by Jean Oh. Photo by Dave Barton

“High School Art Exhibition” at Irvine Fine Arts Center, Heritage Community Park, 14321 Yale Ave., Irvine, (949) 724-6880; www.cityofirvine.org/irvine-fine-arts-center/current-exhibitions. Open Mon.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Through May 4. Free.

“GWC Student Art Show” at Golden West Gallery, Fine Arts Building, 15751 Gothard St., Huntington Beach, (714) 895-8316; gwcgallery.com. Open Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Through May 17. Free.

Dave Barton has written for the OC Weekly for over twenty years, the last eight as their lead art critic. He has interviewed artists from punk rock photographer Edward Colver to monologist Mike Daisey, playwright Joe Penhall to culture jammer Ron English.

2 Replies to “A Pair of Student Exhibitions Show the Promise of Public Arts Funding”

  1. Hi Dave,
    Thank you very much for writing this article. As well as calling my work and others impressive, made my day!!

    Nancy Parch
    Instagram: @nancyparch

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