Professor Emeritus Suzanne Bravender, former Divison Dean Linda Malm, and State Senator Jack Scott, a former president of Pasadena City Collete, at the gallery reception commemorating 20 years of the Artist-in-Residence program, January 12, 2006.
JAY BELLOLI, Director of Gallery Programs, Armory Center for the Arts
It is astonishing to realize that 2006 marks the twentieth anniversary of the Pasadena City College Artist-in-Residence program. This annual event was the dream of Suzanne Bravender, painter and now professor emeritus at PCC. After thinking about such a program for several years, in 1984 she conceptualized the idea in complete form, outlining a one-week residency to take place during the spring semester. She presented the proposal to then PCC president Dr. John Casey, art department chair David Schnabel, and to the head of the PCC Foundation, Dr. Henry Kirk. All readily approved the program and agreed that they would all work on funding the project. Both the college and the Foundation made substantial commitments. Bravender attracted a donation from the J. W. and Ida M. Jameson Foundation, which continued to support the program through 2001. For almost 13 years, Bravender chaired a diverse committee, widely representative of the various disciplines in the art department, to select the artists to be invited.
Although the funding for the Artist-in-Residence program was in place by 1985, it took 18 months of dedicated work to bring the first resident artist to the campus. Many of the prominent artists who participated in the program required at least a year's advance notice for them to commit to a week of their busy schedules for a spring visit. Some required as much as three years' advance notice. In 1987 Nathan Oliveira, a celebrated painter and printmaker living in Northern California, became the first artist in residence at Pasadena City College.
Looking back at the 20 individuals who have participated in the Artist-in-Residence program, it is impressive to see the variety of artists who have been included, both in terms of the focus of their work and their personal background. These artists have explored a large number of the media taught in the Visual Arts and Media Studies Division at Pasadena City College. Not surprisingly, the residencies have focused on painting or drawing, starting with Oliveira, one of the finest painters associated with Northern California figural expressionism, a tendency which began in the 1950s. Wayne Thiebaud (in residence in 1996) is a Northern California painter of Oliveira's generation who also paints figural works. He is celebrated, however, for his popular culture paintings of baked goods, often depicted in glass cases. The watercolor paintings of Masami Teraoka (1998) also deal with issues of popular culture; frequently he explores the collision of the visual printmaking traditions of Japan (where he was born) with the capitalist or social images of the United States (where he lives), including McDonald's fast food or the AIDS crisis. Southern Californian Milo Reice (2002) brings old subject matter (like stories from the Bible or Western myths) into a contemporary context with his expressionistic paintings and drawings.
Like Reice, a number of the former artists-in-residence work in painting and drawing. Ireland's Patrick Graham (1991), for example, is internationally recognized for his poetic and seemingly tragic figurative drawings, yet he has also explored his themes in oil on canvas. American artist Christopher Brown is known for his figurative works on paper in such media as pastels, etchings, lithographs, and woodcuts; but the combination of order and disorder, which are evoked in his works in these media, is also seen in his large paintings. Self-taught Mexican artist José Luis Cuevas (1989) intentionally turned away from his country's powerful tradition of mural painting toward a more contemporary expression. His world-famous drawings, as well as his intaglio prints and sculptures, are figurative, but they evoke dream and memory rather than representational and political reality like the earlier muralists.
Many of the former resident artists explored a variety of media. Painter Nathan Oliveira, for example, has been respected for years for figurative lithographs. California artist Jack Zajac (1988) started as a painter, but is most recognized for his expressive bronze and marble sculpture that focuses on the forms of goats or waterfalls. Southern Californian Michael C. McMillen (2004) paints, but he is especially known for his assemblage sculptures and large-scale art installations; these bring together seemingly old wood and old objects he has purchased or found in the alleyways of his neighborhood into works of magical architecture or interior rooms.
There have been a number of artists in residence, however, who have hardly exhibited painting or drawing at all. American artist Peter Milton (1999) creates black-and-white etchings and engravings. His themes seem to interweave the erotic, the mysterious, and the historical, in which famous figures in the history of art or individuals in his family occasionally appear. Andrés Nagel (1992), an artist from the Basque region of Spain, creates expressionistic sculptures that reveal his Basque background; they also present imagery, often with wit, to explore the themes of harsh repression under Franco's rule in Spain. East Coast artist Mary Frank (1995) also focuses on sculpture; the seeming brokenness of her large-scale figures in ceramic or plaster convey an intensity of emotion. This disjunction of imagery is clear as well in her so-called shadow paper works with their recognizable subjects.
The Artist-in-Residence program has also invited artists who work in other media. Alexis Smith (1993) is internationally recognized for her use of American history, literature and popular imagery in art installations, public commissions, and mixed media collages. Emerging from the conceptual movement in Southern California in the 1970s, she uses recognizable subjects and collage to mirror American society and culture. William Wegman (1994), who lives in New York, has explored the forms of popular culture in video and photography for much of his career. He has become famous for his mass-produced images of his Weimaraners. These works humorously draw attention to our tendency to anthropomorphize dogs, and to the dogs' tendency to try to do what their owners want. American Jerry Uelsmann (2001) also works in photography, but with an emphasis on the juxtaposition and poetry of images. He depicts the forms and forces of nature, using the processes of photomontage and photovisualization to combine his timeless images in the darkroom. Syd Mead (2003) brought a commercial and filmic expertise to his residency. Mead is a multi-discipline designer and futurist known for the objects he created for classic sci-fi films like Blade Runner. He has also worked for corporations to help innovate their products.
The cultural backgrounds of a number of artists in the Artist-in-Residence program have connected with those of many of the students who attend the college. The work of José Luis Cuevas, of course, draws attention to the relationships between Mexican art and experience and the art and backgrounds of Chicanos in Southern California. African-American Barbara Chase-Riboud (1990) is not only a painter and sculptor but also a novelist and poet; her sculpture brings together her knowledge of the artistic traditions of European culture, and also those of other cultural traditions. She is particularly known for the contrasts in color and texture in her metal and fiber sculptures, and for novels about the African-American experience. African-American artist, civil rights activist, and author Faith Ringgold (2000) has explored new artistic possibilities of quilt-making, a tradition important in both American white and Black cultural histories. Her quilt-like works integrate the storytelling tradition with contemporary issues. Southern Californian Alison Saar (2005) is an artist from a multi-cultural background whose sculpture, art installations and prints draw inspiration from a variety of traditions including European classical and Renaissance sculpture, Latin American and Caribbean art and religion, and traditional African and African-American folk art. The rough forms and often rustic materials in her sculpture facilitate an understanding of the pain and joy of the human spirit.
The fact that so many of the artists in residence have explored the expressive possibilities of the human figure and its relationship to political or social issues has shown the students that art is not produced in a vacuum, separate from the world of immediate visual experience or important contemporary concerns in the public arena. In their own lives, the artists in residence have demonstrated that a successful career doesn't require an art education at a prestigious university or art school. In fact, one artist, Jose Luis Cuevas had no formal art training at all. Conversely, the artists in residence of color have proved that your cultural background may not prevent you from receiving widespread recognition or the finest of formal education at such institutions as Yale University, for example, as was the case with Barbara Chase-Riboud.
With the high quality of artists who have come to Pasadena City College in the residencies during the past 20 years, it seems clear that the future of this program will be just as exciting and meaningful. The most recent artist in residence, for example, Los Angeles resident Jessica Bronson, has made an international reputation exploring the installational possibilities of video, either projected or on multiple monitors. Artists in residence will continue to investigate new media, or traditional media in innovative ways. And painters, sculptors or artists working in other media and from other cultural backgrounds, whether those of Asia, Africa, South America or other continents will bring their unique visions to the residencies. The students of Pasadena City College and the members of the surrounding community will continue to benefit from the new ideas and strong personal visions that are presented in the annual Artist-in-Residence program.