I moved to Los Angeles in 2018, from a life in Atlanta, Georgia and the Southeast, having never visited the West Coast before. And, actually, Los Angeles and Atlanta are more similar than you’d think. Y’allywood is the next Hollywood, so they say. Traffic is bad, Marvel movies shut things down, and the city is sprawling and expen$ive. But, unlike LA, the arts community in Georgia is pretty small. Everyone mostly knows everyone, and everyone definitely knows EVERYTHING WILL BE OK, a slogan coined by local artist Jason Kofke and emblazoned on building walls, t-shirts, yard signs, and refrigerator magnets. It’s that sort of feel-good affirmation that resonates with us, because, you know, that’s what we need to get through life and all its messiness.
Lo and behold, SoCal life was even better than OK! The weather is warm, the sunsets like nothing I’ve ever seen, the students amazing, the art everywhere, and the wildfires and little earthquakes bearable. And at Hauser and Wirth one day, I see the installation, EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT, a gorgeous neon text piece by Martin Creed. The work seemed vaguely familiar… and it made me consider a few things.
Whose work came first?
Is it appropriation, plagiarism,
or a coincidence?
(the latter, I think)
Does it matter?
… Should I try neon?
And, mostly, why are there signs like this everywhere, in LA, in GA, as art, on Pinterest, and italicized text on couch pillows?
I’ve been reading a lot of Pema Chödrön’s work, specifically When Things Fall Apart. It’s the kind of book that takes a year. One of her mantras is “Abandon Hope” – a startling departure from EVERYTHING WILL BE OK and EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT. Think it through: everything will be OK clearly implies that it’s “not OK” today but it will be… when, though?
That concept of hoping, that affirmation that “everything is going to be OK, alright,” in fact, instead of promoting a future positive, denies a current positive, approves an infinite limbo of waiting, and “robs us from the present moment.” Chödrön suggests we choose not to wait and instead exist to the fullest in the problematic present. She then writes, “You could even put abandon hope on your refrigerator door [or on couch pillows?] instead of more conventional aspirations” (see previous).
2020. What a year it was. Everything was no longer OK, nothing was alright, anywhere. We were put in a tenuous situation that has not yet resolved, and the impetus was/is to do nothing. Should we wait for it to get back to normal or get adjusted to the new normal? And somehow, this past year of waiting, doing nothing, flew by, “Zoomed” by, perhaps. Every day, something else happened that seems to be compounded by the day before, to layer onto each prior struggle. We thought 2021 would erase 2020, but it seems like it has only dug in deeper.
However, the world keeps moving and so do we, begrudgingly. Art practices, our own, our students’, and the world’s, have shifted. Studios are now at home, seminar lectures are in bed, artists talks given via Zoom, exhibitions held online. I see our students’ work on Instagram instead of on campus.
It’s now Spring 2021, and I am finishing up my third year of teaching at CSUN. Another similarity – many of the graduates this year also began their programs at the same time. This is the first group of graduate students whom I have had the pleasure of knowing for their entire degree programs.
These twelve students are definitively linked through their experiences, their perseverance, their willingness to evolve their artistic practices, and their conceptual threads, which are even more relevant in today’s world.
Rory Nestor, Marc Potter, and Brian Ramirez push the limits of ceramics and sculpture to create obsessively detailed, interactive objects. Rory’s ceramic Ouija boards, prescription bottles, and pills confront themes of tragedy, irony, and symbolism. Marc’s clowns and kites contradict the fragility of the medium. Brian’s religious altars and icons tell a deeper story of his indigenous heritage.
Lauren Moradi and Adrienne Sacks both incorporate abject and found materials in their interdisciplinary practices. In Lauren’s work, a discarded mattress becomes a canvas, and a fan motor, a drawing apparatus. Adrienne Sacks transforms stuffed animals and department store mannequins into uncanny and cartoon-like characters. Their manipulated objects reinforce and contradict their previous functions, a critique on consumerism and capitalism through a feminist lens.
The drawings and paintings of Hanna Miller, Adrienne Kinsella, and Christopher Taylor use representational imagery to their advantage. Christopher depicts the inevitable suffering of the human condition through isolated and lonely figures. Family history is rewritten, and gender disparities are exposed in Hanna’s humorous but sharp work. Adrienne Kinsella’s gelatinous mounds and elaborate interiors serve as a metaphor for nostalgia and containers of the “monstrous” in her intricate compositions.
Jake Martinez and Stephen Sariñana-Lampson photograph locations steeped in history and personal narratives. Jake’s poetic landscapes and precisely photographed abandoned buildings document the changes and decline of Palmdale, CA, while Stephen’s color saturated images chronicle the gentrification
of Lincoln Heights.
Abstraction becomes a fluid, immersive practice in the works of Matthew Nespor and Elizabeth Weber. Layering history, color, and memory, Matthew’s videos reflect a painterly aesthetic that evokes sentiment and transcends the medium. Similarly, Elizabeth’s process builds depth, on the surface of the paintings and psychologically, exploring nuance and architecture
One of my favorite teaching references is Draw it With Your Eyes Closed, an instruction book of sorts, offering a plethora of artist writings and humorous examples. One writing relates to personas of teaching art that the instructor inhabits. I like to identify with the cheerleader – especially with this group.
And my awe at them – their ambition and dedication to their work, their craft, their process and practices. The audacity of these students to flourish and grow and make the work they are making during this time of fear and uncertainty. To being responsive to the present instead of drowning in the past or hoping for that “ok, alright” moment in the future. To instead of abandoning hope, ride with the punches. To make. To create. To do, not wait. I can’t help but cheer them on.
Assistant Professor, Department of Art
Front Hall 1, 2020
Mixed media on unprimed canvas
36” x 38”