Vanguard Award recipients grow their artistry with new techniques

Thursday, April 25, 2024
Guest artist Matthew Ritichie (left) in conversation with Eric Fischl, founder of the Eric Fischl Series
Phoenix College student Adam Corona | BrassTuna is flanked by two of his photographs during an exhibition at the Phoenix Art Museum
Phoenix College student Gwynne Olea stands next to her paining "Untitled" during the Eric Fischl Series at the Phoenix Art Museum
Phoenix College art students Jakob Lemos with his sculpture "Stacking" during an Vanguard Showcase at the Phoenix Art Museum
Phoenix College student Gabriela Rodriguez points to her three ceramic vessels titled "Psychedelic mushroom garden" during an exhibition at the Phoenix Art Museum

The Phoenix Art Museum's Great Hall was awash in light from the newly acquired large-scale architectural work, "Something Like Day," by Matthew Ritchie. The 40-foot illuminated wall, now a feature of PAM's collection, provided a luminous backdrop to the Phoenix College art exhibition featuring Vanguard Award recipients Jakob Lemos (3D | wood), Gwynne Olea (2D | oil and acrylic), Adam Corona | BrassTuna (Digital Photography), and Gabriela Rodriguez (3D | Ceramic) as well as other winners in 2-Dimensional Arts, 3-Dimensional Arts, Digital Arts, and Photography. Ritchie, along with Eric Fischl, served as judges for the Vanguard Awards as part of the 19th annual Eric Fischl Series, which recognizes emerging talent in the visual arts and provides a $2,500 honorarium and the opportunity to exhibit their work at the Phoenix Art Museum and in the Eric Fischl Gallery at Phoenix College. A conversation in Whiteman Hall between Fischl and Ritchie about Ritchie's work followed the exhibition and Vanguard Award reception.  

Adam Corona | BrassTuna

For Adam Corona, aka BrassTuna, photography, mask making, and other creative pursuits involve reclaiming their Mexican American identity. The jaguar masks of the Tigrada parade in Chilapa and vintage fashion spreads of Oaxacan women inspired BrassTuna's "Tehuana” series. "I made the mask. And then I found the dress, heels, and tights, and everything just fell together." However, when BrassTuna saw the early prints of the first shoot, they realized it wasn’t working. "I'm the biggest critic of my art. I had to redo the shoot and find a different location, a new model, and an alternate setting. His sister Amanda Corona served as the model in the final prints. As for continuing their education: "I would love to transfer out of state. But right now, it looks like ASU is the best route. My major is in photography, but I'm more than a photographer. I'm a visual artist. The photograph is documenting the story of what it is that creates." 

Gwynne Olea

A dancer, Gwynne Olea describes herself as a "white knuckle painter" but credits art faculty Jay Hardin for transforming her relationship to painting. "He's big into meditation. I'm big into yoga. We speak the same language. Once he mentioned the breath, that helped." She interacts with a painting as if it is inside her body, a celebration of color, texture, and movement. Her painting "Untitled" has several paintings underneath what's visible on the surface. "When I hold my breath, it tightens up my brush strokes, so I breathe through it." In a recent workshop, Jay brought in Taiko drummer Holly Cluff for an interdisciplinary approach to mindfulness. After drumming, "We had a whole room set up of blank canvases," Gwynne said. "We had three minutes to paint, then rotated to somebody else's painting. The foundation of the drumming and the rhythm and the energy created all these layers." She also studies voice at Phoenix College with Rachael Bastien, which has also helped free up her artwork. 

Jakob Lemos

Typically working in ceramics, Jakob Lemos took a sculpture class at Phoenix College and began working with pallet wood to create his first sculpture, "Stacking." At the same time, he read A Thousand Machines: A Concise Philosophy on the Machine as Social Movement. Jakob said he became a machine to create the wooden sculpture. "Toward the end, I started to get – not necessarily depressed, but in a weird state." After he sculpted each piece using an angle grinder, he numbered each one and ran the numbers through a few randomizers to devise an order to string them up. "I loved how when I hung it up for the first time, it drooped over and was sad," he said. Initially judged lying on the floor, Jakob found hanging the work establishes its expressiveness. "It takes on a new spirit," he said. Eager to work bigger and do more, Jakob will graduate in May with an Associate's in Arts and transfer to ASU for a degree in architecture with a minor in studio art.  

Gabriela Rodriguez

"I've always wanted to do mushrooms," said ceramicist Gabriela Rodriguez, whose "Psychedelic mushroom garden" includes three ceramic vessels with mushrooms hugging and reaching above the vessel's edges. A ceramicist since 2015, this was Gabriella's first time submitting her work to the Vanguard Awards. She credits art faculty Tiffany Bailey with demonstrating the majolica technique in class to create the vibrancy of the mushroom's colors. Majolica begins with an opaque white glaze with colored glazes painted on top. "I was able to get more stacking of colors," Gabriela said. "I wanted a fantasy theme. I wanted the mushrooms to be all different types of colors. With the majolica process, I successfully made the mushrooms colorful." With an Associate's degree in Science, Gabriella is working on her Associate's in Business and will transfer to ASU to major in Graphic Design. Yet, "I will continue in ceramics with Tiffany at Phoenix College," she notes. "Tiffany is the best. She teaches new processes, and I'm always learning with her." 

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