Whether in elemental earth or emphatic fabrications, Triton artists find means of expression.
When Chris Canole ’69’s interest in the environmental movement of the 1960s met the natural woods of early UC San Diego, the confluence led to his becoming a prominent figure in the earth art movement of the time. Though a physics major, he also indulged in art classes, using branches, logs and rocks found around campus, partly because he couldn’t afford other materials but also to inspire onlookers to contemplate their surroundings and reflect upon their environment.
His earthworks often played upon ideas of balance, which treated onlookers to a performance as he precariously placed elements upon one another. “The balancing keeps me from getting overly concerned about permanency,” he explained in a 1976 radio interview, having become the first artist in residence for New York City’s public parks. “It forces me to challenge a certain branch with a log, and if it’s balanced, there’s a symbiotic relationship between me and the tree or the slope I’m working with.”
In this earth art period of his long and varied artistic career, Canole also challenged himself—living outdoors in the parks or wildlands where he worked (including a stint in our own campus eucalyptus). Even today, over 50 years later, he finds himself returning to those outdoor roots: “The pandemic allowed me the time to shut off technology and reconnect with what life was like when I was roaming through the woods. Being very present in that environment gave me much-needed peace through troubling times; it was like 1969 all over again.”
“To transform the perception of a space,” says Kent Yoshimura ’10 when describing the intention of his artistic works. “Whether it’s a mural, an immersive environment or a piece of guerilla art that just shows up on your commute one day, I aim to introduce something different, something that may seem a little out of place, but puts life and soul into an otherwise utilitarian area.”
As he alludes, the means of his transformations can take many shapes. Though he now works primarily as a muralist traveling wherever there’s a surface to be painted, Yoshimura is primarily based in Los Angeles, where he got his start doing off-the-wall spectacles on the city streets: putting outsized paper maché heads on statues, giant worms into construction site soil or a fake alligator into Echo Park Lake.
But the cognitive science major has also followed his entrepreneurial spirit: Yoshimura started the company Neuro with a fellow Triton (see p.5) and is a founder of okidoki, a creative group that makes immersive worlds and wonderous spaces for events and companies seeking a visual and conceptual splash. Whether it’s a room inside a cloud, the world’s greatest toy store or a vibrant message upon a city wall, Yoshimura channels creativity into something that demands notice.
MFA student Isidro Pérez García, or ChiloTe, has long used indigenous materials to evoke the central theme of his work: decolonizing the art world.
“There is somewhat of a hierarchy in contemporary art, which is something I’d like to challenge,” he says. “It’s led me to materials that might be seen as primitive from an institutional perspective, but these materials are very personal for me.” ChiloTe drew upon his Mexican heritage, for instance, for a series of carvings done upon the leaves of the maguey, or agave, that depict elements of his life and lineage.
The pandemic has also affected his choice of materials: “It reminded me of how precolonial rituals in the Americas used sacrificial hearts to restore balance in the universe, ” he says. ChiloTe thus created a series of hearts made from the earth of his backyard—one of the only materials available to him during lockdown. With a mold made from a prosthetic heart found at a thrift store, he produced many homemade hearts, firing them in an open bonfire and then adorning them with various embellishments. “I think of it as continuing precolonial traditions that have been attacked or erased, and as a kind of medicine—a way to heal, become grounded and consider alternate ways of thinking about the world.”
Painting and drawing have always been fundamental to Evelyn Walker, MFA ’18, but a COVID-19 furlough from San Diego’s Old Globe Theater brought those skills to new use. “I loved what I was learning as a scenic carpenter, but I wasn’t getting any art done. I started to wonder, ‘Am I even an artist anymore?’”
Walker used drawing as a mode of escape and self-therapy, and to mitigate the isolation of social distancing, she began taking commissions for portraits and personal compositions. “I’ve always been interested in drawing characters and people, in particular finding a subtle gesture or expression and really running with it,” she says.
Her recent use of bright, bold colors is also new territory. “I was scared of color because I felt like it changed the narrative too much,” she says. “Lines are my first love; lines that are eccentric but subtle, maybe a little squiggly. It’s hard to add color to that because you can’t front stage both of those things at once.” But that changed when she was introduced to the process of screen printing. “I can change the color all day, every day—the medium totally changed the possibilities of what I could create.”
Walker produces limited-edition screen prints and portrait commissions of people, pets and even plants. Learn more at: evelynchanning.com
Ask filmmaker and multi-modal artist Bill Basquin, MFA ’15, his biggest concern being among packs of wolves in the New Mexico wilderness? “Honestly,” he says, “I was more afraid of the people I might run across.”
From 2014 to 2019, Basquin documented the reintroduction of Mexican gray wolves into Gila National Forest for From Inside of Here, an experimental film that uses soundscapes and landscapes to explore the vulnerability and interconnections of a unique ecosystem. “Various government agencies are putting apex predators back into wildlands after an absence of 100 years,” he says. “I wanted to be in that ecosystem, observing them as well as experiencing it myself.”
Basquin complemented footage from solitary camping trips with interviews with townspeople about the wolves, which once roamed free in the southwest before coming into conflict with ranchers protecting livestock. “It’s a really contentious issue,” says Basquin. “Even people who had connections to the wolves for personal or ecological reasons weren’t willing to go on record.”
With the pandemic delaying the film’s premiere at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Basquin is eager to immerse audiences in a dialogue about our relationship with the wild. “People are complex,” he says. “Even I landed in a different place from where I started, having gained a more nuanced understanding of preserving a national forest and its resources.”
Welcome to the New Eagle Creek Saloon, an active art installation from artist Sadie Barnette, MFA ’12, that reimagines her father’s 1990s-era San Francisco bar—the city’s first Black-owned gay bar.
Rodney Barnette opened the first Eagle Creek Saloon to serve a multiracial gay community marginalized by racist profiling. It became a place of both celebration and resistance, a unique nightclub that hosted fundraisers for activist groups and vigils for those lost to the AIDS epidemic. “My restaging offers space for connection and new energies to dance and dream, to call the names of those lost and to see one another as we are in the glow of our own small moments of freedom,” says Barnette’s statement for the work.
With the neon glow inviting viewers to take a seat, the work also features ephemera from the original saloon, newspaper clippings, photographs of past patrons and family snapshots. “The glittering bar structure is not only a space,” says Barnette, “but is at once an invocation and an invitation.” And though the original bar closed in 1993, the legacy of its spirit—what it was and what it meant to a community—continues to shine bright: “A friendly place, with a funky bass, for every race.”
For artist Kevin Vincent, MFA ’20, growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta meant a childhood spent largely outdoors, surrounded by nature. Where a rope swing tied to a tree at his grandparents’ house was once a memory of a carefree childhood, that same swing of rope and wood would take on a new meaning over time as he learned about slavery, racism and how those natural materials were often used as means of racial intimidation.
“For me and for a lot of people of color, rope represents historical trauma. With my work, I want people to understand how trauma is engrained, and how it transforms and grows with you,” he says. “It is about persevering through it.”
Vincent chooses elements from nature, such as found wood, because of its resiliency. “Nature is a really good example of perseverance. Plants are resilient and evolve over time. And like the human body, they live and they die.” In his recent gallery exhibition at the Oceanside Museum of Art, Material Memories, Vincent used various combinations of rope and wood to express the trauma embedded in these materials for people of color.
“The work really has become cathartic for me,” he says. “The more I work with the rope, the less fear and negative connotations come into play. When I look at the rope now, I think about art, sculpture, perseverance and moving on.”
Every inch of the Jacobs Medical Center at UC San Diego Health is designed for patient care—including its wall space. Throughout the center, over 150 pieces of fine art comprise The Healing Arts Collection, offering moments of respite and contributing to the recovery and wellness of patients and their loved ones.
“Research shows art has the ability to heal and de-stress,” says Joan Jacobs, the arts advocate and philanthropist behind the collection, and with her husband, Irwin, a longtime supporter of UC San Diego and the Jacobs Medical Center. “What we hope to create with the artwork is an uplifting environment that fosters warmth, comfort and inspiration. The goal is to increase feelings of well-being while promoting healing,” says Joan.
The Jacobs recently added a monumental piece to the Healing Arts Collection—Party Hat (Orange), a larger-than-life sculpture by prominent artist Jeff Koons installed in the hospital’s lobby last winter. Meticulously designed and fabricated from mirror-polished stainless steel, its reflective surface is something the artist hopes has a unique effect in the hospital. “I hope it functions very metaphysically,” says Koons, “in that everyone who walks into the Jacobs Medical Center is reflected into it, affirmed by it, and hopefully it communicates an optimism such that no matter what that moment may hold for the viewer, they see a future that can bear positive things.”
This newest sculpture complements other paintings, photographs, sculptures and prints by the likes of Damien Hirst, Kiki Smith and Ryan McGuiness, as well as artists with connections to UC San Diego, such as former faculty members Manny Farber and Kim MacConnel ’69, MFA ’72. “The paintings chosen of mine are small, which is very personal, and their bright colors yet calm repetition of forms seem to make people happy,” says MacConnel. “The mind likes this little observational game, I think. So it makes perfect sense in a situational environment like the Jacobs Medical Center. I hope they work wonders.”