Father inspires alum Trujillo’s Oppenheimer exhibit

Even before the Oscar-winning film “Oppenheimer” hit theaters, University of Arizona School of Art alum Ernesto A. Trujillo created a striking collection of mixed-media prints that portrayed his father’s thoughts and fears of nuclear destruction as a defense industry engineer.

Ernesto A. Trujillo

Trujillo first presented the gallery online in December 2022, but the public can now see his solo exhibition, “The Oppenheimers’: One is Dad, Dimensions of Engineering,” through June 7, 2024, at Pima Community College’s Desert Vista Art Gallery, 5901 S Calle Santa Cruz. The show features 23 prints.

A special projects professional at Pima’s Desert Vista campus, Trujillo also teaches business classes as an adjunct instructor at the college.

“It’s been a unique experience working as an artist and having other careers,” said Trujillo, who also is an insurance agent and web designer and consultant in Tucson.

The School of Art recently interviewed Trujillo, who earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2004 and his Master of Fine Arts in 2010 — both in mixed media.

Q. How did you come up with the idea for your exhibit?

A. I started the concept for “The Oppenheimers” in 2020, before the pandemic hit. We were developing some WiFi stations for students at Desert Vista Campus who wanted to use our computer lab to continue their coursework. … With social distancing in full force, I needed to make some measurements based on the (room) plans. I remember I had my dad’s engineering Leroy measuring and calculation kits on my bookshelf. As I worked into the night, I thought about all the spoken and non-spoken projects this kit must have seen. 

I also remembered the last conversation my dad, Ernesto O. Trujillo, and I had regarding his time in mechanical engineering. He quoted, “Now I become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” from the Bhagavad Gita, which Robert Oppenheimer also used in his reflections to describe himself. This part of my dad’s life was an enigma because he chose not to speak of it too often. When he did share experiences, I listened. I was amazed at the ingenuity that he discovered and the innovative genius of his colleagues and team members. 

My dad suffered a lot throughout his life, knowing that his work was part of a large-scale destruction. Seeing him wrangle with his past while he was moving forward in another career was tough.

This sparked the question, “How would the visual representation of his unique stories look?” (Below: images from “The Oppenheimers’: One is Dad, Dimensions of Engineering”)

Q. Could you elaborate on that visual representation?

A. I started to write down my father’s stories from memory, as many as possible. I researched notes and memos; I had some pictures of him at work. Then, I spent time sketching, drawing, and making images. 

(The exhibit is partly influenced by) my series called “DDoS Chicano.” A DDoS attack is a Distributed Denial of Service attack, a cybercrime that prevents users from accessing online services and sites. It’s a subcategory of the more general denial-of-service (DoS) attack. The genre combines cyberpunk, technology, cognitive intelligence and Chicano art elements. I look at our humanistic touch points through the lens of computer information systems, trying to find the most efficient ways to connect to others.

I have been involved with information technology, cybersecurity, and cognitive intelligence or superintelligence for over twenty years. This genre fascinates me, and we live in extraordinary times. We have been taking leaps and bounds with processing capacities and learning exponentially. I’m curious if we will take technology down the path to help mankind improve our quality of life everywhere. 

In 2022, I did an online show with some test images and wanted to see an initial response. During the last six months of 2023, I finalized some of the work and was ready to show “The Oppenheimers” for 2024.

Q. What did you think of “Oppenheimer,” which won Best Picture and six other Oscars?

A. I had read several journals and stories about Robert Oppenheimer and other great minds of the time. I always wondered if a movie would be made about this incredible mind. Surprisingly, it came to fruition; I was stoked. I hope that Carl Sagan is next.

Director Christopher Nolan’s vision and all the splendid actors and actresses (conveyed) a sense of the inner turmoil that affected all the people involved in the atomic program. The moral and human dilemmas that challenged Oppenheimer and his team still exist.

Unfortunately, humans are attracted to a mindset of destruction. Imagine if we placed the same amount of innovative genius to create better circumstances for life. Our minds and souls would be free to do all that is possible for humankind. 

Ernesto O. Trujillo worked as an engineer for the defense industry. (Photo courtesy of Ernesto A. Trujillo)

Q. Do you see a lot of parallels with your exhibit and the film?

A. Look carefully at the signs, symbols and marks of innovative destruction in my exhibit. Their display calls us to remember that we can change our immediate and foreseeable future as a civilization to a positive outcome. Out of some horrible, we can create a new one that will be the standard for advanced citizenship. My father’s story is proof that it can be better.

Q. How much influence did your dad have on your life? 

Ernesto O. Trujillo’s military ID

A. My father passed when I was 18 (in 1999 at age 61). It was a tragic experience; I inherited his insurance and investment firm overnight. Thus, I started my career in business. (Trujillo is also a licensed agent for the Kino Insurance Agency). Before my dad passed, we would have some heated arguments about my future. I wanted to go into engineering as he did. However, he would not support the future. He wanted me to pursue business or something in the arts. Uniquely, I ended up doing both. 

Q. Speaking of which, how does your art education help in your roles at Pima College?

I teach a Business eCommerce Introduction course … focusing on marketing, cybersecurity threats and eCommerce business strategies, concepts in data analytics AI and algorithmic programming. The other course is Business Information and Intelligence.

It’s been great using all my visual communication skills to fortify these concepts in a visual format. I am developing a unique learning system that connects uniquely with each learner to simultaneously deliver visual communication that best meets that person’s learning style under universal communication traits for all languages and genres of learning. 

Q. Who’s inspired you, both at the School of Art and professionally?

A. One of my mentors was Alfred Quiroz, a School of Art emeritus professor. I love how his artwork “tells a story.” He also takes a natural multimedia approach to expressing and creating these stories. For Alfred, a 2D and 3D all-at-once approach is a way to solve a visual problem. You have an idea to convey; use everything around you. Andy Polk, another School of Art emeritus professor, influenced my technical awareness of how printmaking, specifically lithography, can be robust and delicate simultaneously. Looking at the work carefully, you can recognize all forms of printmaking in every image. 

Edgar Soto, vice president of the Desert Vista Campus and Pima College’s previous Arts and Humanities dean, also helped me understand the value of good communication and investing in our students and community. Others who’ve helped me are David Andres, director of the Louis Carlos Bernal Gallery on Pima’s West Campus, and Dana Roes, dean of the Arts Division, as well as the Desert Vista Gallery and Fine Arts program at Pima.

Without their assistance, “The Oppenheimers” would have remained on the storyboard.

Ernesto A. Trujillo describes some of his other work

Out of Time Out of Cognition: Plug Me In 2010. This was from my MFA Exhibit from 2010. This started the DDoS series. I was teaching, finishing school, and taking care of my mother, who eventually passed away in 2009 from non-Hotchkiss lymphoma. One day, I was so tired that I stood in the middle of the mirror, wondering if I could replace my battery like a machine. I forgot that I had replaced a 220 outlet for my appliance and left the broken plug in the bathroom vanity. I placed it right in front of my chest and snapped a picture. The text in the background was all my conversations with my mom that we had until she passed. Little bits of wisdom.

“DDos Chicano 2020” (Mixed Media Oil Painting): Here, I started integrating more copper electrical signal paths in the background and representing radiating energy. This Vick’s Vapo Rub bottle is a classic cure-all for any illness in Mexican American Culture. I was given this for every ailment I can think of. The cap accents my spine, which has been partially injuredfor most of my life. The skeletons are my mom and dad on each side, still looking out for me and protecting me. Although I was raised Catholic, these Virgin Mary statues have been around in every house I can imagine. I always wonder what company got the contract for this specific mold; they made some shekels. I am spiritual; funnily, I was trying to make the Virgin Mary special through a mass-produced consumer statement. My mom had her Ph.D. in Phenomenology and was a huge person in education. She also practiced Buddhism and was knowledgeable about different religions. This influenced me greatly, and I have a third eye open from an astrophysical self-awareness. 

“Chicano Steam Punk Story: Episode 1” (Mixed Media Digital Print 22” x 30” 2023): I see myself as this digital being that is supposed to flow through the cyber world, helping everyone access the right information while telling my unique life story. I’m including aspects of Mexican-American and Persian culture. 

Wellesley Fellow Smith latest alum to earn national recognition

When Kaitlyn Jo Smith received a prestigious early-career artist fellowship from Wellesley College, she thanked her professors at the University of Arizona School of Art for “believing in me and my work.”

“Graduate school taught me to think bigger, dream bigger and trust in my instincts,” said Smith, a 2020 Master of Fine Arts graduate in Photography, Video and Imaging whose interdisciplinary art focuses on America’s working class and the implications of automation on labor and religion.

Smith joins a long list of other recent alums and current students in the MFA and Art History/Art & Visual Culture Education programs to earn national recognition and realize their dreams. Some examples include:

Kaitlyn Jo Smith, in front of her “American Standard” installation at Tucson Museum of Art (Photo by Julius Schlosburg)
  • Ricardo Chavez (current Ph.D. student): Tyson Scholar in American Art
  • Kendall Crabbe (Ph.D. ’22, AVCE): Elliot Eisner Doctoral Research Runner Up-Award in Art Education
  • Karlito Miller Espinosa (MFA ’19): Whitney Independent Study Program
  • Tehan Ketema (MFA ’22): First Wave Arts and Education Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • Martin Krafft (’20 MFA): Residency at the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, New York
  • Naseem Navab (MFA ’19): Artists in Residence, Art Produce Gallery, San Diego
  • Marina Shaltout (’20 MFA): Residencies at the Creative Centre in Stodvarfjordur, Iceland and at New Mexico State University
  • Alex Turner (MFA ’20): Grand Prize, FOCUS Photo L.A. Summer 2021 Competition
  • Bella Maria Varela (’21 MFA): Early Career Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin
  • Kenzie Wells (’20 MFA): Residencies at the Wassaic Project Artist Residency in New York, Oxbow School of Art and Artists’ Residency in Michigan, and Penland School of Craft in North Carolina

“Our graduate programs are incredibly strong right now, and there is no better evidence of that than the success of our students after graduation,” School of Art Director Colin Blakely said. “Kaitlyn Jo is a perfect example. She pushed her work in new and truly innovative directions during her time here, and the recognition associated with this fellowship is a great and well-deserved validation of that.”

Kaitlyn Jo Smith’s workspace (ArtConnect photo)

In late April, Smith received the 2023-2024 Alice C. Cole ’42 Fellowship in Studio Art at Wellesley College near Boston. The $35,000 award is intended to support outstanding artists at an early point in their career, by providing the necessary time to develop their art relatively independent of financial pressures.

“The work that I make is a direct reflection of my experiences growing up in a working-class family in rural middle America,” she said. “The fact that these stories resonate with others is validating for me not only as an artist, but as a young adult trying to understand my place in the world.”

Smith is from Sycamore in northwest Ohio, a town of about 800 people, where she joined 4H in fourth grade and took one of the youth organization’s photography classes. “I’ve been obsessed with images ever since,” she said. “I’m extremely fortunate that my parents have always been incredibly supportive in all of my creative pursuits.”

She was just a teen when the housing market crashed in 2007-08, leaving most of the adults she knew out of work. She earned her BFA in Photography from Columbus College of Art & Design in Ohio before joining the University of Arizona School of Art’s Photography, Video and Imaging MFA program in its first year of expanding into technology.

“Kaitlyn entered as a traditional photographer-based artist but quickly pushed the limits of the medium and her own work to compel viewers to feel the despair of the U.S. manufacturing labor market’s waning,” Regents Professor Sama Alshaibi said. “Many of her art pieces involve the use of material that has been altered, replicated, exploited and out of place.”

Added Alshaibi: “I’m thrilled that Kaitlyn’s practice has been recognized by the Wellesley College Art Department as spanning Sculpture through an expansive lens, including new media and deep-learning production, social practice and virtual domains.”

Computer-generated factory workers from “Lights Out,” 2020. See a video excerpt.

Smith calls the graduate program at the School of Art “a pressure cooker of brilliant minds and high expectations.”

“Throughout my entire experience, I felt supported by a group of (faculty) mentors who I genuinely believe wanted me to succeed: Sama, Martina Shenal, David Taylor, Cerese Vaden and so many others,” Smith said. “I miss the intensity of critiques and the space for criticism in a nurturing environment.”

Smith’s “American Standard” MFA Thesis Exhibition project, put on hold until 2021 because of COVID, reflected her roots in the Midwest. She was longlisted for the 2021 Lumen Prize in Art and Technology (London) and received the College Art Association’s Services to Artists Committee Award for her video “Lights Out.”

Her “Fixtures” and “Lights Out” installations, which make the workers and the products they produce visible, are on display at the Arizona Biennial exhibition until Oct. 1 at the Tucson Museum of Art. 

“American Standard pushed me both conceptually and technically,” Smith said. “I’m even prouder of my most recent exhibition ‘Mass Production.’ It was the first solo show I have had since grad school and consisted of four entirely new projects. Since its installation, I have noticed a big shift in the way I see myself — I no longer felt like a student, but a professional.”

“Mass Production” ran from March 19 to April 30 at Bells Projects in Denver. The exhibition connected the repetition of Catholic mass to the rituals of factory production, Smith said.

“Each of my Catholic grandmother’s seven sons has worked in a factory,” she said. “When I think of their collective prayer at her funeral mass, I think of my father and his brothers on the assembly line. ‘Mass Production’ questions whether the learned rituals of Catholicism have conditioned them, and other blue-collar workers, for habitual lives of monotonous labor. …”

“Confessional Kiosk,” 2023, from “Mass Production” exhibition in Denver

During her fellowship, Smith said she’ll continue “to explore the ways that automation and artificial intelligence are rapidly changing our understanding of work and how we structure our lives.”

Smith will take several trips to Wellesley, Massachusetts, but will remain based in Tucson and continue as an adjunct instructor at the School of Art. She’s taught various classes, including Introduction to Photographic Concepts.

“Kaitlyn has been a great asset to our extensive image/photography program because she has the ability to uniquely link established artistic techniques with cutting-edge technologies for relevant purposes,” Alshaibi said.

Smith’s work uses 3D printing and scanning “as a way to visually present the monotony of both automation and skilled manual labor,” she said.

“I love teaching. I love learning from my students,” Smith said. “There is something so inspiring about being surrounded by and helping realize so many wildly different ideas. I’m incredibly passionate in what I do and hope that I encourage that love of exploration and discovery in my students. Art is not easy, but I can think of nothing more rewarding than creating something out of nothing. I love watching my students experience that accomplishment.”

As part of her fellowship, Smith will give an artist’s talk at Wellesley this fall and work with students there. “While many of the subjects in my work have roots in the Midwest and Rust Belt, I believe that a lot of the themes are universal,” she said.

Smith’s work and teaching are important now more than ever because they combine science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, with the arts, Alshaibi said.

“While Kaitlyn produces exquisite and poetic work in photography and found archives, it’s her capacity to fully embrace innovation and creative risk-taking that sets her apart from others,” Alshaibi said. “She has personal experience with what it takes to uphold tradition while developing and inventing for the future.”

As for her own work, Smith said both her “American Standard” and “Mass Production” projects have left her with “more questions than answers, but I think that is why they’re successful.”

“I make art to try and understand the world around me,” Smith said. “I don’t understand it yet; there is more art to be made.”

• Kaitlyn Jo Smith’s website 
• ArtConnect interview

Alum Hardy’s postcard projects connect artists

Postcards make Camden Hardy happy.

Designing and mailing them — and, of course, receiving them — helps him connect with other artists and stretch the limits of creativity, a process he says that “simply cannot exist in cyberspace.”

It’s why he started the Postcard Collective 13 years ago as a Master of Fine Arts student at the University of Arizona School of Art, and why he’s now leading a storytelling project in which his fellow Ph.D. students are making postcards for a class co-taught by Professor Ellen McMahon.

Camden Hardy

“Postcards promote an ethics of care that is often at odds with our culture of fast-paced, transactional consumption,” Hardy said.

“To create and send a postcard to another human being is to deliberately forge a personal connection without any guarantee of reciprocation,” he added. “To receive a postcard is to be reminded that someone cared enough to reach out. The relational dynamic between sender and recipient is a poignant reminder that our wellbeing is directly tied to that of others.”

McMahon is co-teaching the course, “Art Research in the Unruly World: Questions, Forms & Methods” (SCCT 510),  through the SCCT Graduate Interdisciplinary Program — a class that brings together faculty and Ph.D. students like Hardy from different units across campus.

Hardy, a doctoral candidate in Applied Intercultural Arts Research (AIAR), gave each student in the class three stamped and addressed postcards with the prompts “space / place,” “time” and “identity” printed on the back. Students responded to the prompts on the front of the postcards in whatever form they desired — words, images, collages — and then dropped them in the mail.

Hardy collected the postcards to compose a visual narrative, which was on display in early May in the School of Art’s Visual Arts Graduate Research Lab, 1231 N. Fremont Ave. An opening reception was held May 2 in the lab’s Palo Verde graduate gallery.

McMahon is ecstatic about the collaboration with Hardy and other students from units such as the School of Art, Agriculture, Anthropology, Educational Psychology, East Asian Studies and AIAR. Most are minoring in Social Critical and Cultural Theory through the Graduate Interdisciplinary Program (GIDP).

Robert Warner, The Postcard Collective, Spring 2014

She also worked with Hardy on her 2013 co-edited book “Ground/Water: The Art, Design and Science of a Dry River.” Beyond his personal project for the book, he provided beautiful images for the inside covers and the section dividers, McMahon said.

“Camden is soft-spoken and humble about his work,” she said. “He’s generous, persistent and dedicated to cultivating a creative community around him wherever he is.”

Hardy received his BA in Media & Theater Arts Photography from Montana State University before getting his MFA in 2012 at UArizona, where he started the Postcard Collective as an effort to maintain relationships with artists in different cities and regions.

“We hold seasonal postcard exchanges — about four per year — in which approximately 30 artists create and send postcards to each other; each participant receives a postcard from all other participants,” said Hardy about the exchanges, which are themed with prompts such as “The Sound that I Saw.”

For Hardy, the May exhibit at the School of Art brings back memories of the Postcard Collective’s first exchange in the graduate gallery toward the end of the Spring 2010 semester. It was busy time.

Camden Hardy addresses guests at a May 2 opening reception in the Palo Verde graduate gallery.

“Graduate school is a pressure cooker,” Hardy said. “A group of young artists suddenly find themselves surrounded by like-minded individuals, all with the shared goal of learning about themselves and how to make their work in the most authentic way possible, faculty and peers challenging them at every turn.

“Looking back, it is truly remarkable to consider what graduate school inspired us to make of ourselves.”

After getting his MFA, Hardy worked and taught at Southwest University of Visual Arts for the next eight years while the Postcard Collective gathered momentum. Hardy said postcards from the collection have been exhibited inside and outside the United States in a variety of contexts.

Hardy decided to return to UArizona as a doctoral student to “explore the ways in which communities of practice can facilitate and support unifying discourse among artists,” he said — and he’s using the “evolution of the Postcard Collective as a space for artists to conduct their own research and connect with each other.”

“Let’s be honest: we’re going through some dark times,” Hardy said. “Our culture has been flooded with divisive, toxic rhetoric that has pitted us all against each other.

“Art, on the other hand, can be the cure. It has the power to remind us of what it means to be human, and that we are all in this together.”

Alumna Crabbe wins Eisner research runner-up award

Kendall Crabbe (Ph.D. ’22, Art and Visual Culture Education) has been selected by her peers to receive the Elliot Eisner Doctoral Research Runner-Up Award in Art Education.

The National Art Education Association will honor the University of Arizona School of Art graduate April 13 in San Antonio.

Kendall Crabbe

“There is no greater testament of your exemplary contributions to the field of visual arts education than being chosen for this prestigious award,” said Mario R. Rossero, NAEA executive director.

Crabbe’s 2022 dissertation, “Intergenerational Counternarratives of Creative Agency: Reimagining Inclusive Practices Through Youth Participatory Action Research,” analyzed the effectiveness of programs aimed at increasing youth participation in the arts.

Associate Professor Amelia (Amy) Kraehe was Crabbe’s dissertation adviser.

“I wanted to share this exciting news and to thank each of you for supporting me. I appreciate you and your time,” Crabbe told Kraehe and fellow AVCE faculty members at the School of Art: gloria j. wilsonCarissa DiCindio and Ryan Shin.

Crabbe is a lecturer and director of the BFAAE Program at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and assistant editor of the Art Education journal.

Her research interests grew from her teaching practice within youth programs in art museums.

Crabbe received her M.A. in Art History in 2011 from the University of East Anglia (United Kingdom) and B.A. in Art History in 2008 from Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, where she also was a Division III national champion diver in 1- and 3-meter springboard.

“Your colleagues throughout the United States and abroad join the NAEA Board of Directors in applauding your leadership, commitment and service to the profession,” Rossero told Crabbe.

Elliot Eisner, who died in 2014, was a professor of Art and Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education.

Alum of the Year Meyer excels in art and advertising

From his first job designing sofa ads for a small firm to developing a national advertising campaign for Walgreens, John Meyer has always understood the importance of making the right “pitch.”

It’s a skill he learned as an undergraduate student at the University of Arizona School of Art.

“The School of Art created a more focused foundation that helped bring out my talents to make myself more marketable,” Meyer said. “The U of A in general … also encouraged creativity and independent thought – while exposing me to other cultures and backgrounds.”

John Meyer listens to his introduction by Prof. Karen Zimmerman (top, left). (Photos by Jonalynne Bustamante)

Now an award-winning creative director, marketer, strategist and image maker, Meyer (BFA 1982, Studio Art) is being honored as the College of Fine Arts’ 2023 Alumnus of the Year — one of 15 alums being recognized by the university.

“I have developed campaigns from A to Z – Adobe to Zima. I would have to say that Walgreens, ‘At the Corner of Happy & Healthy,’ was my favorite because of the rebranding,” Meyer said. “I was responsible for the new creative campaign (in 2013), which affected over 100 million customers nationally.”

Meanwhile, Meyer and his former agency, Innerspin, squared off against another Los Angeles agency during the second season of the AMC television reality series “The Pitch.” The two firms battled to see who would help Bliss, a spa-inspired skincare company, launch its latest product, “Fuzz Off,” in the episode that aired in August 2013.

Innerspin won, led by Meyer, who devised an idea of a removable purple mustache sticker with the hashtag #fuzzyourself, which would be posted in various nighttime hotspots. “I love the stuff this guy does, I gotta tell you,” Meyer’s then-colleague, Elcid Choi, told Bliss executives during their pitch.

“It gave our whole agency an opportunity for exposure,” Meyer said. “We shot for 6 to 8 weeks in Los Angeles.”

John Meyer looked at student portfolios before his Alum of the Year ceremony. (Photo by Michael Chesnick)

Meyer had come a long way from his first job after graduation, working with a small design firm out of Huntington Beach, California. He rendered photos for Sunday newspaper print ads of sofas and chairs and worked on other local accounts, “which enabled me to create in several different categories – branding, retail and promotion.”

He secured his first big client, Burger King, during his next career move to JWT, a global advertising and branding agency.

“I didn’t give up,” Meyer said. “I kept improving my odds.”

Besides Walgreens, his other mega clients have included Apple, Taco Bell, Starbucks, Subway, Levi’s, McDonald’s, Chevron, Absolut Vodka, Pom Wonderful, TD Ameritrade and Virgin.

He’s now the chief creative officer of Absolutmeyer in Scottsdale, a firm he founded in 2015. “We’re finishing up a national rebranding effort for 3E Energy Drinks: ‘The Better for You Energy Drink,’” he said.

Meyer understands the importance of giving back, both to his alma mater and charities.

John Meyer helped students design these postcards when he taught a class for the School of Art in 2017.

“Teaching helped me understand the next wave of talent coming out of the university and gave me such a sense of pride,” said Meyer, who assisted students in getting internships with his firm and others across the country.

He also designed a series of Tucson-centric greeting cards, with a patriotic and western theme, while working with students in the Letterpress & Book Arts Lab run by Professor Karen Zimmermann, assistant director for the School of Art. “The cards are beautiful,” she said. 

A few years ago, he taught an Illustration and Design capstone class at the School of Art that focused on portfolios, branding, promotion, ethics and financial issues.

It’s been the best part of my career to give back to the school,” Meyer said. “It’s been very rewarding to have the ability to help mentor such deserving and talented students.”

Meyer has volunteered creative support for several non-profit groups, including the L.A. Epilepsy Foundation and the Prostate Cancer Foundation. “We’re on this planet to serve others,” said Meyer, who is grateful to doctors who helped one of his three children with epilepsy treatments.

“Hopefully, my career path and highlights will inspire others to achieve more than they dreamed,” Meyer said.

His advice to students?

“Give more than you’re paid to do ­– money will follow,” he said. “Visualize your future and stay positive. Keep pounding and don’t lose the faith.”

• John F. Meyer: 2023 CFA Alumnus of the Year

UT-Austin names alumna Varela early career fellow

University of Arizona School of Art master’a alumna Bella Maria Varela was named a prestigious Early Career Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin as part of its Expanding Approaches to American Arts initiative.

For the next two years, the 2021 Master of Fine Arts graduate in Photo, Video and Imaging will receive research funding, studio space and robust mentorship at UT-Austin to help prepare for a career in academia.

Varela moved to El Paso, Texas, after graduation to attend the Border Art Residency (BAR), where she helped establish a new arts and philosophy program — Transformative Learning Communities — in elChamizal, a barrio on the U.S.-Mexico Border.

Bella Maria Varela

The artist uses video and cultural objects to explore the intersections of immigration, sexuality and gender identity. At UT-Austin, her teaching focuses on combining found objects, digital, photography, green screen performances, and experimental video into non-traditional and virtual classroom environments to guide students to explore their relationship with space, culture and community.

“We are thrilled to welcome Bella . . . into our community of artists and scholars,” said Raquel Monroe, a College of Fine Arts associate dean at UT-Austin. “(Her) curiosity and transdisciplinary methodologies are inspiring.”

Varela, whose parents were Guatemalan immigrants, grew up in inner-city Washington D.C. At the University of Arizona, Varela served as a facilitator with the Common Ground Alliance and QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color). Using photography, video and installation work, Varela’s artwork explored her identity as a first-generation Latinx women exploring and reclaiming American landscapes.

“I cut and reconfigure iconic material to skewer mainstream anti-immigration rhetoric, subvert the appropriation of Latinx culture and queer mythologies of Americanness,” Varela said.

Her practice is rooted in the resourceful legacy of immigrant hustlers, which has compelled her to not only collect but also corrupt and alter found objects and images to amplify the power dynamics inherent within it.

In April 2022, during her Border Art Residency in El Paso, she presented a mixed media installation at a Las Cruces, New Mexico, gallery entitled “@Border Becky,” which she also exhibited at the University of Arizona Museum of Art during her studies. It combined photography and two videos with fleece blanket assemblages to explore the intersection of immigration and gender identity through the lens of contemporary pop culture and mass media.

At the University of Arizona, she received first place in the 5 Minute Film Festival at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Tucson for her work titled “Triathlon” and was accepted into the Mellon-Fronteridades Graduate Fellowship Program. Varela attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where she majored in Mass Communication and minored in Photography. After receiving her undergrad degree, she returned to Washington to serve as a museum assistant at the Phillips Collection, assistant manager at the Renwick Gallery Store, and as arts program coordinator with All Our Kids DC.

Alums Navab, Nguyen showcase work in ‘Dialogues’ exhibition

School of Art graduates Nassem Navab and Anh-Thuy Nguyen participated in a compelling four-woman exhibition “Dialogues” at Tucson’s Yun Gee Park Gallery.

The show explored the challenges, discussions, interchanges and negotiations that take place when existing between multiple cultures. It ran through Nov. 12 at the gallery, 4226 E. 2nd St., with an opening reception on Oct. 15 and an artist talk with Nguyen on Nov. 3.

 Nassem Navab

Navab, who received an MFA in Studio Art in 2019, spent this summer in Iran researching and collecting ideas and images for her work in the exhibition. She works in various mediums, from 3D modeling to video, sound and photography.

Scott Duerstock, managing director of Yun Gee Park Gallery, said Navab’s work “conveys the sense of separation that she felt while in Iran of belonging and understanding the culture, yet being separated from full acceptance by repeatedly being identified as an ‘other.’”

“She accomplishes this through photographs taken while in Iran – where the subjects all face away from her – that are printed on glass with soldered brass frames that were salvaged from her family home’s coffee table,” said Durestock, who is a member of the School of Art Advisory Board.

Navab, now based in Brooklyn, New York, is an art instructor/lecturer at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.

“Domestic items from her childhood home are a pervasive theme in her work,” Durestock said. “This is the home in America where she was raised to understand Persian language and culture, but where she also learned American culture.

Navab’s series also features works of handmade paper created from Persian cucumbers, “symbolizing her separation from Iranian society by being perceived as Persian on the outside, yet white on the inside,” Durestock said.

Navab received her BA in Interdisciplinary Computing Arts and Media from the University of California, San Diego. In 2016, she presented her work at the State Center for the Arts in Tijuana (CEART Tijuana), Mexico. Navab was part of a traveling group show, “Someone to Ride the River With,” which has shown at various art galleries in the Southwest.

Nguyen, who received a BFA in Photography from the School of Art in 2010, is the head of photography at Pima Community College in Tucson.

In “Dialogues,” she’s created a multimedia installation that includes photography, video and sculpture.

“She explores language learning, where the act of endeavoring to learn correct pronunciation of the target language can result in the vocabulary of the language losing its meaning,” Durestock said, “eventually becoming unintelligible to both the language learner and the native speaker.”

Anh-Thuy Nguyen

Nguyen, who received her MFA in Photography/Video from Southern Methodist University, has exhibited and taught photography, painting, linoleum, performance art and concept-driven workshops nationally and internationally.

“As a Vietnamese-American artist, my primary artistic source material for the last decade has been my personal history and experiences as a female immigrant,” Nguyen said on her website. “Through my art making, I investigate my cultural and identity as well as my migration story through photography, video, installation and performance art.”

Her works are in permanent collections of Amarillo Museum of Art, Tucson Museum of Art, Center for Photography at Woodstock among others. She recently was awarded the Second Sight award from Medium Photo, and her work is on the front cover of Southwest Contemporary Magazine.

Alum Adam Rex mentors aspiring illustrators, writers

Long before DreamWorks turned his children’s book into the 2015 animated film “Home,” Adam Rex sat in a University of Arizona art classroom and dreamed about his own career.

David Christiana taught me so much,” Rex said about the School of Art emeritus professor. “Anatomy, how to paint … but the greatest thing he did for me was just be a walking, talking object lesson — here was someone who wrote and illustrated picture books, proving it was a real thing that people did.

“I needed that. You can know a certain profession is attainable, but if you don’t actually see it, it feels a little like saying you want to be a wizard when you grow up.”

You could say Rex has become a wizard in his own right, having written and illustrated more than 40 books for children — including several New York Times bestsellers — since he graduated with a BFA in Studio Art in 1996.

Adam Rex
Adam Rex (www.adamrex.com)

And in fall 2022, Rex channeled Christiana as the Tucson Public Library’s writer-in-residence, offering one-on-one sessions to aspiring authors and illustrators at the Himmel Park and Woods Memorial branches.

In 2017, Rex won both the Margaret Wise Brown Prize in Children’s Literature for “School’s First Day of School” and the 2017 National Cartoonists Society Book Illustration Award for “The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors.” His debut novel — “The True Meaning of Smekday,” which DreamWorks developed into “Home” with Rihanna — was a 2007 nominee for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

He got his start drawing comic strips for the Arizona Daily Wildcat student newspaper and making art for games such as “Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering.” Rex, who lives in Tucson with his physicist wife, Marie, and son, answered questions for the School of Art.

Q. Can you tell us about your first career break out of college?

Rex: I got my earliest work by taking a portfolio out to the San Diego Comic Con in the nineties and showing it to anyone who would look at it. I slept in my car and just hustled for the full weekend each year. That led to some jobs in RPGs and card games, which led to better work in the same field, and that kind of stuff paid my bills for years while I was trying to break into children’s books.

Q. What advice would you give current School of Art students?

Rex: I’m not sure what to say specifically to students in school right now about this moment, but I think this one is evergreen: Slow it down. Learn everything you can and try new things. That’s our job when we’re in school. But in my day, there were always students who got up on critique day and presented the same thing they always did, in the same medium and style. Style, in particular, became their armor — if anyone in class questioned their work (shaky fundamentals, lackluster composition, sloppy rendering) this kind of student invariably said, “That’s just my style; it’s supposed to look like that.” You couldn’t teach them anything …

Q. What would you like people to learn from your one-on-one library sessions?

Rex: Well, piggybacking on that last answer, I guess I’m hoping an aspiring writer and/or illustrator will show up to our one-on-one consultation looking to learn something. Something about my experiences in my field, or my beliefs about art and writing, or even my opinion of their work. And then they can walk away with everything I said and decide for themselves if it had any value. Maybe I’ll have said something that really helps them — I sincerely hope I do — but I could be wrong! Even the process of picking apart why I’m wrong could lead them to a better understanding of why what they’re doing is right.

Book movie collage
Rex wrote and illustrated “The True Meaning of Smekday” (2007), which DreamWorks adapted into the animated movie “Home” in 2015.

Q. How did you develop your writing skills?

Rex: By writing a lot of really bad stories. And reading a lot of really good ones.

Q. What did you create for the Daily Wildcat?

Rex: Oh, I had a couple short-lived comic strips during my years as a student. The first was a Far Side/Bizarro-style single panel strip, except not good. And the second was more of a Doonesbury/Bloom Country-style serialized strip, except not good.

Q. Where do you get ideas for your books?

Rex: “Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich” was a title that popped into my head, fully formed, while I was on a stair stepper machine. I didn’t know what it meant but decided to try writing a book that might be called that.

The True Meaning of Smekday” came out of the books of American history I was reading at the time, and I set out to write an alien invasion story that would encourage the average American kid to sympathize with the colonized rather than the colonizers (if you think that aspiration sounds a little fraught, it was — I made mistakes that cause me to have mixed feelings about that book now). Another book came from an anecdote my brother told me. Still another came to me when I misread a sign.

So, the point I’m getting to is: ideas come from everywhere, and I never know where lightning is going to strike next. If I did, I’d go stand there.

Q. What projects are you working on now?

Rex: My next book to arrive in stores is called “Digestion! The Musical.” It’s a stage musical about how digestion works, but in book form. I think it comes out in October. But right now I’m working on a young adult novel and a chapter book series, neither of which will be out for a couple years. Traditional publishing has a long lead time.

Q. You grew up in Phoenix and attended Thunderbird High School. Why did you make Tucson your home?

Rex: I never got a sense of Phoenix having any personality. I probably just lived in the wrong part. Tucson has personality — sometimes an embarrassing surfeit of personality. Tucson is a dog who has a million followers on Instagram because it’s so ugly it’s cute.


David Christiana, a professor emeritus in the School of Art, illustrated more than 20 picture books for children and authored four for international publishers. He reflected on Adam Rex, his former student:

David Christiana

“Adam was an outstanding student. It was clear from the get-go that he wasn’t merely a picture maker nor simply a designer or typographer. He was then, as he is now, a human with a personal vision. That, though not unique (everyone has a unique perspective) is too often surprisingly underserved. In Adam’s case, his uber-unique perspective just seemed to ooze out all over everything he did. Further, it oozed with arresting clarity and skill. I mean, he soaked up what was going on in and out of class, twisted things around with exceptional skill, not to mention wit, and worked like a bull to make his imaginative jaunts come to life in pictures and words.

“He was also as serious as he was playful, both in the execution of his work and his approach toward a career. I remember how, early on, he grouped the works he featured on his web site into age-appropriate categories. That may seem like a natural step, but to many artists whose creative flights are as playful and original as Adam’s, taking that practical step can be difficult.  What was it they used to say about mullet haircuts – ‘business in the front, party in the back?’ Well, to force the analogy,  Adam was like a mullet in reverse – party in the front with business in the background. It’s a balance, or perhaps more precisely, a dance.

“Adam’s success is truly one of my great rewards as an educator. There are many perks when it comes to teaching at the School of Art and none is greater than seeing a student launch and succeed, but to see one take flight and soar with such grace and aplomb as Adam has over the years is more than satisfying, it’s a gift to relish, and I do.”

What Do You See?

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Utvista Galiante
Half Off Special

Half Off Special

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Floral Arrangement

Floral Arrangement

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Tailgate Party

Roger Masterson
I fell down some stairs

I fell down some stairs

Lyle Emmerson Jr.