The
CalArts Alumni Magazine
Palestine Disturbance, 1936 (2017) by Yair Agmon (Photography and Media MFA 17). Enlarged archival photograph from the Matson Collection at the Library of Congress.

CalArtsX Auctions Art for CAP

“My father built flying saucers in the front yard as I was growing up.”

–Esther Pearl Watson 

Alumni Donate Work to Benefit Community Arts Partnership

The fourth annual CalArtsX Benefit Auction celebrated support for the Institute’s CalArts Community Arts Partnership (CAP), which offers free arts instruction for Los Angeles County students aged 6 through 18. Generously hosted by CAP Council member Susan Disney Lord at her Brentwood restaurant The Bel-Air, festivities included the auction and sale of artworks donated by recent CalArts alumni and CAP participants, and an opportunity to meet new CAP Director Veronica Alvarez, as well as CAP faculty and participants.

Alvarez arrives at CalArts after serving as LACMA’s director of School and Teacher Programs. There, she oversaw the “Maya Mobile” classroom, a 48-foot truck outfitted as an archeological site to teach children about ancient Maya, Aztec, and Inca cultures. Alvarez attended Cal State Northridge and earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership for Social Justice at Loyola Marymount University. Alvarez’s dissertation spelled out the passions that have made her ideally suited to lead CAP. Titled “Art Museums and Latino English Learners: Teaching Artists in the K–8 Classroom,” the paper documented how and why students of color benefit significantly from arts education.

Among the more than 30 participating artists at the CalArtsX Benefit Auction, Esther Pearl Watson (Art MFA 12) contributed Ed’s History of Granny Weiss (2019). The graphite drawing, featuring text and aluminum foil glitter on paper, drew inspiration from her childhood, Watson told The Pool. “My father built flying saucers in the front yard as I was growing up,” she said. “He believed that they were the future of transportation and would take us out of poverty. But he couldn’t keep his current transportation functioning because he kept getting flat tires and running out of gas.”

Granny Weiss exemplifies the text-driven aesthetic featured in much of Watson’s work, which has appeared on Cartoon Network, Adult Swim online, and Vice.com. “I come from a world of illustration and comics,” Watson explained. “I am interested in the semiotics of visual storytelling, so my work always includes text in the spirit of Italian ex-voto or ‘miracle painting.’”

Ed’s History of Granny Weiss (2019) by Esther Pearl Watson (Art MFA 12). Graphite and aluminum foil glitter on paper.
Ed’s History of Granny Weiss (2019) by Esther Pearl Watson (Art MFA 12). Graphite and aluminum foil glitter on paper
I Wish That I Could Be your Hero, but I’m Not (Fast Enough) (2016) by Corey McGhee (Art MFA 17). Inkjet on canvas.
I Wish That I Could Be your Hero, but I’m Not (Fast Enough) (2016) by Corey McGhee (Art MFA 17). Inkjet on canvas.

Watson credits CalArts with sharpening her creative vision. “My education at CalArts felt like putting on a good pair of glasses that allows me to see my work better from a theoretical and historical perspective,” Watson recalled. “I was fortunate to have amazing teachers like Anoka Faroque and Michael Ned Holte. My classmates Akina Cox, Ariane Vielmetter, Krista Bucking, and Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle were also very inspiring.” The CAP Auction attracted Watson’s interest, she said, “because it’s always good to support young artists, many of whom struggle against great odds to share their ideas with the world.”

CalArtsX also featured a piece donated by Yair Agmon (Photography and Media MFA 17) entitled Palestine Disturbance, 1936 (2017). The work consists of an enlarged archival photograph from the Matson Collection at the Library of Congress augmented by what Agmon calls an “extended caption.” He explained, “This image is part of a larger project which recaptions or extends captions to a wide variety of images from that archive. The fascination for me is not so much with history per se, as with the political conditions that dictate the narration of historical events in the service of various agendas.”

Agmon relocated to California from his native Israel specifically to immerse himself in CalArts’s Photography and Media program. “I was attracted to this long-standing tradition established by the late, great Allan Sekula,” he said. “I took classes from professors like Ashley Hunt, Ellen Burrill, and Andy Freeman who encouraged me to view artmaking itself as a political act, part of a larger arena in which you can negotiate representation, language, politics, and community.”

Agmon eagerly contributed his work to the CAP Benefit Auction because he backs the program’s mission to nurture creativity in kids who might not otherwise have access to arts education. “CAP allows amazing artists to bring their unique perspectives to young people in communities like Lancaster, Boyle Heights, San Gabriel Valley, and San Fernando Valley,” Agmon noted. “This kind of outreach really impacts children by making their world richer.”

Detroit native Corey McGhee (Art MFA 17) was represented at the CAP Auction by his Inkjet on canvas piece I Wish That I Could Be your Hero, but I’m Not (Fast Enough) (2016). The work utilizes hand-drawn figures, text, and collage to revisit a chapter from his turbulent youth. “It speaks to a time after my dad left, when my mom had a relationship with an abusive alcoholic,” he acknowledged. “The title of the piece is basically me saying, ‘I wish I could be my mom’s hero and protect her from this bad guy.’ Like a lot of my art, it draws on childhood memories, which is why I use vibrant colors in the drawing and write the text in a childlike manner. It’s a way of making art by looking back at the past.”

“I took classes from professors like Ashley Hunt, Ellen Burrill, and Andy Freeman who encouraged me to view artmaking itself as a political act…”

–Yair Agmon 

Yes! (Caravaggio, The Conversion of Saint Paul) (2018) by Jennifer Remenchik (Art MFA 15). Painting on canvas.
Yes! (Caravaggio, The Conversion of Saint Paul) (2018) by Jennifer Remenchik (Art MFA 15). Painting on canvas.

McGhee decided to study painting at CalArts when he realized that many artists featured in the Hirshhorn Museum’s “Damage Control” exhibit were graduates of the Institute. “Coming to California changed the way I saw art,” he said. “At CalArts, the idea behind the art became more pronounced than the actual physicality of painting itself.” Encouraged by his roommate Ryan Louie, an Experimental Animation student, McGhee enrolled in Maureen Selwood’s animation class. Filmmaking and animation have now been incorporated into his freelance career. “I’ve been focusing on film lately, which is something I never tried before I got to CalArts. Getting involved in animation and these other media really evolved my practice because it kind of put me in a lane of my own.”

Reflecting on his own experience, McGhee lauded CAP’s efforts to nurture creativity in elementary and high school students. “For me, personally, when I was growing up, art seemed inaccessible and impractical. I think the CAP program is important to support because I feel children need to see artists who look like them, especially in these [underserved] communities.”

Jennifer Remenchik (Art MFA 15) offered a painting titled Yes! (Caravaggio, The Conversion of Saint Paul) (2018) to the CAP Auction. It’s one of several works modeled after classical paintings, she said. “The hands in this series are all in an open position, kind of like a position of submission or acceptance, and they’re all taken from art history. It’s about accepting history and the present.”

Remenchik, whose work has been exhibited in Canada, Switzerland, France, and Los Angeles, hopes her gift helps advance CAP programming initiatives. “Everything that can be done to break down barriers between young people and contemporary art is a good thing,” she affirmed. “A lot of people find art intimidating but really, everyone should be allowed to experience and have an opinion about contemporary art.”

“Everything that can be done to break down barriers between young people and contemporary art is a good thing.”

–Jennifer Remenchik