Father inspires alum Trujillo’s Oppenheimer exhibit

By: Michael Chesnick. April 3, 2024.

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. 

I fell down some stairs

I fell down some stairs

Lyle Emmerson Jr.
What Do You See?

What Do You See?

Utvista Galiante
Half Off Special

Half Off Special

Wilbur Dallas Fremont
Floral Arrangement

Floral Arrangement

Janessa Southerland
Tailgate Party

Tailgate Party

Roger Masterson