Graduates of the Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) presented their final culminating artworks during a July 1 exhibition.
LCAD is one of the few art schools in the country that transmits the type of classical painting that great artists of yesteryear knew: the fundamental skills of traditional realism art. Other art schools often heavily focus on contemporary and abstract art.
“A lot of places really discourage a time-honored, traditional approach … it’s hard to get that kind of training and those sorts of skills,” Peter Zokosky, chair of the master of fine arts (MFA) program drawing and painting, told The Epoch Times.
The gallery features the work of 11 students graduating from the school’s MFA program, after working for two years to develop their thesis and art.
Zokosky said his students learned the essence of representation art, or “art that represents something that exists in the real world.”
Representation has its origins in classical antiquity and was popularized during the Renaissance era.
However, the art form lost popularity in the 1960s, as the mainstream art world was replaced with abstraction. During this period, classical painting techniques became “dismissed” and “irrelevant” in institutions, Zokosky said.
“Human history is filled with revivals,” Zokosky said. “Things get forgotten, and then they get unearthed and reexamined. You really could say the same thing is happening now with representational art.
“[The students] endured through a year and a half of the pandemic … and the surprising thing is, no one dropped out from the MFA program. They all persevered.”
Renae Wang, an MFA graduate, said her paintings are based in non-places, or public and transient spaces and feature an “underlying solitude,” with characters in her paintings not interacting with each other.
Wang’s parents separated when she was four, and live on opposite ends of the world.
Every other year, she would travel from her dad’s home in Beijing to spend the summer with her mom in Florida.
Wang’s mother isn’t able to go back to China because she practices Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, a spiritual practice based on truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
The Chinese Communist Party initiated a persecution of Falun Gong in 1999, after the practice gained a following of over 100 million practitioners.
“She wasn’t able to go back to China, otherwise, she’d be arrested,” Wang told The Epoch Times.
“The only way for me to see her was actually just going to the state by myself.”
Wang’s childhood experiences traveling in the airports left a deep impression on her.
“I used to travel a lot by myself, so I used to spend a lot of time by myself in airports or a food court in the airport, so I’m always really drawn to places like that,” she said.
Her paintings depict everyday moments that people can relate to, such as pulling into a gas station in the midnight hours, looking at a neon sign Christmas tree in front of a strip mall, or being on an airplane.
“I want my paintings to be universal and timeless,” Wang said.
MFA graduate Jody Gerber based her oil paintings and thesis around the transitional period of childhood to adolescence, titled “Age of Innocence.”
Her artworks highlight the gift of children’s innocence, and the quiet moments they experience in play. She also emphasizes the vulnerability of their innocence.
“With my paintings, I just want to show how precious that time of life is and bring people back to that time to reminisce about the nostalgia of childhood, and to also bring awareness to human trafficking,” Gerber told The Epoch Times.
After speaking with a survivor of human trafficking, she wept finding the impact it had on the survivor’s life.
“What gives me the drive is having children of my own and knowing their vulnerability, and just knowing several people that have suffered the consequences of abuse.”
Gerber uses nature as a background for her art, to give the children in her paintings a place to escape into solace.
She also includes birds in her art, alluding to when a bird is locked in a cage.
“We hear them singing; we think they’re singing happy songs, but they may be crying out for help,” she said.
Graduate Jessica Chong said the pandemic was an opportunity to improve her artwork.
“The whole year was really a time of introspection,” Chong told The Epoch Times.
“We were all alone for a good chunk of time … It’s different painting in an environment where no one else was around to like give me instant feedback … I had to make all the decisions on my own, so it’s like trusting myself more.”
Chong’s artwork features the “transformational experiences we have in life.”
“One of my biggest hopes is that other people will look at them and have some kind of introspection” and be inspired to think differently by exploring their own life transformation, she said.
The artwork will be available for viewing and purchase until July 25 at the LCAD Gallery.
The 374 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach, gallery is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday.