25 Years Ago, Fall 1991

For whatever reason, I am fond of memories and of tracking time. You'll have noticed that if you've been around this blog for awhile. I mark various anniversaries regularly.

25 years ago, it was autumn, 1991. That is significant for a few reasons, and if you have had an interest in my work, and/or are an artist, maybe you will enjoy this look back.

25 years ago I was three months into my first semester of art school. I remember, having left high school--which I was not particularly fond of--the sense of freedom and excitement I felt to finally be pursuing art single-mindedly, or nearly so. This was before the internet became a consumer thing. After considering a few art colleges like Cornish, Pratt, Art Center, Academy of Art in San Francisco, and the California College of Arts and Crafts (now just CCA) in Oakland, I applied only to the Bay Area ones. The primary reason was that art school--then as now--was almost as expensive as Ivy League schools, just in tuition. My parents both worked in factories of different kinds and managed to pull together a modest middle-class living, somehow, for their three sons. But I did not qualify for nearly enough financial aid to make leaving home possible. I could not move to the north or east bay to be close to school unless I funded it entirely on loans. So I stayed home and commuted from south San Jose to North Oakland 3-4 days a week for long class days. That was a challenge, but was a great decision as I left without crushing debt later.

18 x 24" charcoal on paper 16 year-old me in my Core Drawing class. We were being introduced to different forms of drawing and encouraged to use different techniques constantly. This one included smudging charcoal and lifting out with a kneaded eraser. I even dated it, 10/4/91.

18 x 24" charcoal on paper
16 year-old me in my Core Drawing class. We were being introduced to different forms of drawing and encouraged to use different techniques constantly. This one included smudging charcoal and lifting out with a kneaded eraser. I even dated it, 10/4/91.

My first semester, I entered as I said full of exuberance, only to encounter Core Year. Core Year is the year you are tightly constrained to mostly mandated courses, meant to give you a cross-discipline foundation before you declare a major and specialize. Some of it was necessary: basic composition and materials, foundation drawing, foundation painting. Some of it was a waste, for me, like foundation 3d (sculpture, not digital). Some of it was useful: some humanities, art history.

Much of it was frustrating, however. The 3d class wasn't even an attempt to teach sculpture. It was exposure to materials and mostly abstract assignments and installations. For my purposes, a complete waste of time.

My intro painting class I started with much hope, but it ended up being largely a waste of money. It was by-and-large uninstructed. We would do still life paintings or figure paintings, or paint our own projects, and there was really nothing in the way of color theory, paint handling or materials instruction beyond learning how to stretch a canvas. The instructor never painted with us to teach through demonstration. Through now I was exclusively self-taught, but I hoped to be taught now. Sadly, that didn't really start until my second year, so I made the best of my first year with the self-teaching. I was not confident enough in myself to question this method of "teaching" or to insist on being taught actual, you know, things. Critiques were mostly useless, since no one else knew much either, yet.

I trashed a lot of my student work when I got married and moved out of my folks' house in 1998. You generate a ton of bad work in art school--you're supposed to. So what I kept I guess I considered decent or notable for some reason.

"L'Inconnue de la Seine" 16 x 20" oil on canvas, 1991

"L'Inconnue de la Seine" 16 x 20" oil on canvas, 1991

In my painting intro class, we had a plaster cast I later came to learn was kinda famous. This painting was done I think in two sessions, or in one session but I repainted a bit more after it dried. You can tell because the profile around the cheek through underjaw was re-painted a bit, and ghosting remains. I painted it as it lay on a table, as the painting is shown. Later, I stood it upright and noticed the drawing errors, and corrected them. I also signed it in the vertical aspect, but I prefer it horizontal again.

It's fascinating to look at my 16 or 17 year old self's efforts here. It's not bad, considering age. I'm half tempted to get a hold of this cast somehow again, to give it another go. Of note as well is that it is now 25 years old, painted on basic-level canvas panel from any ol' art store, with at least half a palette of budget student-grade paints, and is holding up very well, materially. I'm not surprised--I have a couple other panels that are 2-3 years even older and are holding up fine.

Why did I paint it so large? It's about 2x life size. I can't tell you, really. I think I had this idea that bigger was better for whatever reason. Or we were encouraged to paint or draw larger. I mean Real Art is usually big, right?

18 x 18" ink on paper, 1991 This exercise involved a brush and pot of ink, and drawing using a free-form gesture line that was supposed to travel or criss-cross the figure. I think we were asked to not lift the brush unless it got dry. Kinda weird. Maybe 20 minutes?

18 x 18" ink on paper, 1991
This exercise involved a brush and pot of ink, and drawing using a free-form gesture line that was supposed to travel or criss-cross the figure. I think we were asked to not lift the brush unless it got dry. Kinda weird. Maybe 20 minutes?

Art school was a wonderful time--finally free to dedicate my time to art, but without all the financial burden of needing to support myself. Living at home helped with that part. I did have a part-time job throughout, working with Thomas Kinkade's nascent publishing company, as detailed earlier. So even at my day job I was involved at least tangentially with the business of art.

I was young, having graduated High School earlier than usual, and I was focused but naive. Because I didn't live on campus, I didn't socialize or make friends at school really, but as I was already dating my now-wife, who was also back in San Jose, that occupied my human interaction time. Even still, there began to be periods where I would have to tell her I wouldn't see her for a short stretch at a time so I could focus on various projects. Things got busier my second year, but already I was busier than I had ever been.

And it was wonderful.