Alumni Memories

Candid Memories from Alumni Exhibition 2012

Jeremy Fish (BFA Interdisciplinary, 1997)
I worked part-time in the mornings before class as a janitor at SFAI, mainly sweeping and mopping the drawing studios. Some of the janitorial supplies at the time were stored in the base of the tower. I frequently tried to sneak up to the top of the mysterious tower, but was never allowed. A year after I graduated, I met a student who had gone to the top of the tower, and made a short film. Although I was deeply inspired by his triumph, I am still sad to this day that I failed to achieve my goal. Instead, I’m just proud of how clean the drawing studio floors were in 1996.

John de Fazio (MFA Sculpture, 1984)
The Art Institute was a mind-bending hot house of creativity in the early 1980’s where students could explore the maze of studio practices and participate in an otherworldly atmosphere of artistic freedom in stark contrast to Reaganomic conservatism. With artists like George Kuchar filming semi-pornographic parables with dazzling junk yard sets in Studio 8; alternative art history lectures with Angela Davies ; Richard Shaw teaching extreme craftsmanship infused with beatnik poetry, John Roloff’s pyrotechnic serpentine kilns; Robert Colescott’s humorous paintings of recasting Black Americana, and Carlos Villa supplying his brainwaves of inspiration and love to young counter culture free-spirits and punk rockers alike.

Jeremiah Jenkins (MFA Sculpture, 2007)
This is not so much a story as it is a confession. During my second-to-last semester I was working on a piece called American Flag. It was a 3' x 5' flag made out of matches; 100,000 strike-anywhere matches painted red, white, and blue. My first technique for making it was to put the matches five at a time into a screen held in place by a frame.  Even though I had gotten pretty fast at doing this, averaging 1,000 a night, it was taking too long. I was nervous in the first place about making this piece, because the materials were not exactly considered safe and bordered on being legal. I figured out a more efficient method, but it would involve taking out the screen and the 12,000 matches I had already put in place. I needed to take it out of the studio to pull it apart and decided to use my skateboard to transport it. In hindsight, this was the bad decision that set the ball rolling on the following events. In the hallway the frame slipped off my board and two of the matches struck. The matches started lighting one after the other, exponentially faster, until the collective force of the 12,000 matches was a five-foot-tall flame. It all happened in seconds, but I swear to god I can remember hearing every single match spark. I dropped the flaming art and grabbed the fire extinguisher to put it out. People were understandably coming into the hall to see what the commotion and smoke was all about. I knew that if word got around I wouldn't be able to finish the piece, so I immediately went into cover-up mode. The gigantic mess was cleaned up within 10 minutes, including all the smoke evacuated from the hall, burned matches discarded, fire extinguisher matter cleaned, and memories of eyewitnesses completely erased. The following month I finished the flag and the cover-up has held tight up until this moment.

David Johnson (BFA Photography, 1949)
I recall a time during my first year in school, we were assigned by Minor White to participate in a seminar. I choose to research the work of Gordon Parks. I discovered that he began his career during the depression. He was hired by Roy Striker, who was in charge of a program to take pictures of poor people. Gordon Parks was hired to work on the project as part of an art program funded by WPA. Following that experience he was able to find work in photography. This experience resulted in his being hired by LIFE magazine and the rest is history. He motivated me as an African American to believe that I could make a difference.

Charles Linder (BFA Sculpture, 1990)
While I was in school at Santa Monica College we got wind that SFAI was a sort of navigators’ school for flightless birds. Apparently, one could win a transfer scholarship to attend SFAI and engage in—among other activities—base jumping from the roof of the school with no parachute, starting campfires on the concrete rooftop and living in a mud hut outside on the lawn. I was sold...hook, line and sinker! That flightless Icarus was my erstwhile best friend, whom I followed on many other dubious adventures that went on to define my early career. He was recently granted an honorary master’s degree from the school so that he wouldn’t pursue legal actions against them. Now I look back with pride at many of the lawless capers we embarked upon with hapless glee and abandon, actions that made me the artist I am today.

Amanaa Rendall (BFA Painting, 1985)
No matter HOW BIG my canvases were, more than one painting teacher just kept repeating: PAINT BIGGER AMANAA!

I slept a lot at school. I remember sleeping in the library on the small green leather loveseats under the tall windows that looked out on the bay, and also in the rackroom on the small couch there during my Sunday morning monitor shifts. People told me years later that if they saw I was sleeping, they would creep away without getting their paintings, and have to come back later. I am so embarrassed about this. So, I just want to apologize to anyone who ever had to do this and tell them thanks for not waking me up.

Dick Fiscus invited me back for a few years after I graduated and was working in the library, to his creative writing and English classes to read “The Garden Party,” the short story by Katherine Mansfield. I would read it very dramatically, using different voices, and actually sang the few lines of songs that the story features. I made it really come alive. I think it delighted Dick more than the students, but I always enjoyed it and truly regretted it when he told me it was no longer a part of his curriculum.

Jeffrey Augustine Songco (MFA New Genres, 2011)
Aside from making amazing friends, mentors, and frenemies, my three favorite memories of SFAI were a) being on LOGS, b) walking out onto the Chestnut quad for the first time, and c) free therapy sessions with Counseling Services. 

Cat U-Thasoonthorn (MFA Sculpture, 2012)
My last day working in the metal shop as a student at SFAI. Finishing my last concrete pours. How scared I was of failing on the biggest project I'd ever undertaken, and how good it felt to finally load both 1,200 lb sculptures in to moving trucks for Vernissage. My friends who I bribed to help me tirelessly and sleeplessly with kombucha, ice cream sandwiches, and burritos.

Carlos Villa (BFA Painting, 1961)
I had a good time then, I have a good time now and I'm still going to have a good time...I'll always have a good time.

Ben Wood (BFA Digital Media, 2003)
I arrived at the Art Institute in 2001 a week or so before September 11th. Although it was a period of uncertainty for both students and faculty alike I would not exchange my time there for another. The experimental environment and innovative students were formative experiences that beyond Art Institute continue to inform and equip me in my work. While I was a student I sought out faculty to work with closely. The current project on show is the result of an independent study with two teachers, Jack Fulton and Craig Baldwin, and a collaboration with up to 15 other faculty.

Amber Jean Young (MFA Painting, 2010)
One time in Pegan Brooke's critique seminar I showed a painting that I had been agonizing over since my last presentation day. The group tore it apart. They called it dated, not contemporary, folkloric. I was stunned. It was the most difficult critique to hear, but also the most informative. It forced me to make decisions regarding what about that painting was important to me.