Back in June of 2013, Tempe Center for the Art’s Michelle Dock approached me with this project:
The Gallery at TCA is getting ready to collaborate with several local high school art teachers and ASU professor Dr. Mary Erickson to conduct an innovative art education project. We are calling the project a “virtual artist residency.”
She explained it would entail artists making themselves available via email to a small group of high school students during a 2-week period.
All of the participating students will be given a TCA workbook. The workbook will help them research the assigned artist, develop interview questions and ultimately lead to the making of their own artwork inspired by the residency. Each artist will be assigned to one specific art teacher and that teacher will assign the students to each artist.
Having worked with both Michelle and Mary before, I trusted it would be a worthwhile experience. Though I had no idea what to expect, I accepted. Art teacher Kathy David coordinated the email correspondence and we completed things the first week of December 2013.
Two months later I am pleased to introduce you to the work of Neilly, an IB Visual Arts student. Her list of questions to me were thoughtful and well-prepared. I had to step away from the computer regularly as I carefully considered my responses to her. I won’t give you all the details of the Q and A (because it really is 2 weeks worth of emails!) but I will share a few topics we covered and show you pages from Neilly’s journal.
Neilly began by asking about my Latino background, childhood experiences, and any traditions I might still uphold. Who might be the audience for your work? she wanted to know. What is it like living in both American and Hispanic cultures? Neilly is Filipino-American.
We discussed some works at length. A drawing titled Gluttony (2008) caught her attention and she questioned how the image reflected American and Latino culture. In addition she wanted to know the media. At her request we covered artistic influences and media specifically in relation to Mexican culture.
She was curious about a community workshop I designed called the “Who Am I?” project. The questions I ask participants to consider are: Who am I?, What am I?, What is this world and what is my relationship to it? What are ‘your’ answers? she inquired. Eventually I would learn her answers.
We discuss my current body of work titled Nothing in Stasis. She made associations to the work of Gustav Klimt. She watched one of my process videos on YouTube and asked about the background music which I’d composed with another artist.
Clearly Neilly had done a lot of research about my work. I had to wonder if given the opportunity to communicate with an artist, at her age would I have been so astute?
Finally I ask about her work.
I’m thinking of painting a figure surrounded by persimmons, pomegranates, roses, and grapes – but I will be using a vintage television as my canvas.
We move into a conversation about humanity and technology and the nature of relating in this way. Interestingly enough at this point she brought up a painting titled The World Stage, a play in finite acts - and the phrase Summum bonum. I explain summun bonum is Latin and translates to the highest good.
Here are parts of Neilly’s planning and completion of her artwork. I learn how I influence the final composition. She says it’s with the hands. Hands are powerful symbols.
Before we end the residency Nelly asks about my thoughts on religion and spirituality. She shared her thoughts with me too. The conversation included qualities about humanity as well as the animal world. She shares with me a Japanese symbol called the Red String of Fate and her personal take on it after our residency. It was wonderful insight into what she might have gathered from our interaction.
Neilly and I had the opportunity to discuss general and personal things – that’s what art allows us to do. I am impressed with her ability to communicate and with her curiosity about the ebb and flow of life.
As you may know I teach drawing at Phoenix College and I teach the occasional art workshop to art students throughout the valley. This experience was a very unique and rewarding one.
Neilly came to me very directed and well prepared. I thought we were going to be discussing materials and compositional elements and while we did do that, we covered so much more. It ended on my end as quickly as it began. I didn’t know what to think. I could not have imagined that a few months later I would receive these wonderful images and a video based on the outcome of the experience for her.
I am pleased to note Neilly has been accepted to the Brown University / Rhode Island School of Design dual degree program. Best to you Neilly. I trust you will do well. Bravo!