by Jordan Winters.
Roberto Ortiz sat in a small library in MacArthur Park among a cluster of his peers, recounting the first time he ever sat down in front of a canvas. The entrance blends in with laundromats and markets but if one looks closely, a small banner says “Art Division” above the door. Art Division is the all-in-one art program, library, and studio for young adults that Ortiz has been involved in for seven years.
Ortiz gestured to his friend Luis Mateo who was reclining next to him and said, “he was the first one to give me some of his old paint brushes” back when Ortiz was eighteen.
“I had $20 and we went to go buy some canvases and I painted my first painting [and] building connections through art began” he continued.
That first painting was of a peacock, and the image was heavily influenced by his years practicing graffiti art in high school, when he was too young to join Art Division. The colorful bird now decorates his bedroom wall but he has long since graduated from second hand brushes.
His newest work ‘Concert Hall Chair series’ is hanging in the Art Division studio. Vivid colors are still a large feature of his art but now he paints objects that are much more present in his everyday life. The shadows and patterns on the handicap chairs in Walt Disney Concert Hall inspired one of paintings he recently completed.
“There’s something spiritual about it,” Ortiz said as he gazes at his artwork. His tone is easy going as he brilliantly articulates his experimentation with angles, lines and the ways that other artists have inspired him. His passion for his work is apparent when the edges of his eyes crinkle as he talks, but his refined understanding of art comes through in the way he carries himself in the studio.
Artist John Nava has hosted workshops at Art Division for several years now and have gotten to watch many students gain that same confidence in their abilities.
“Many of them have a lot of talent and a lot of interest that is self-motivated,” says Nava. “They are hungry for new ideas and new ways to do things, sometimes it’s very simple mechanical techniques with a pencil or brush, and other times it’s an idea.”
Mateo, Ortiz’s childhood friend and now peer, has a pretty good idea why Art Division continues to attract more talent.
“We get treated like graduate students,” Mateo said.
Unlike graduate schools attached to a university, Art Division is a free program that accepts everyone. But it is by no means a walk in the park. The program requires students to work on tight deadlines and work in collectives.
Ortiz’s art along with several other founding members of Art Division will be hanging alongside master paintings soon enough, as they compete their residency at the USC Fisher Museum of Art.
The residency at the Fisher will be a new experience for Art Division students but the familiar process of constantly learning will still be incorporated into their routine. The Fisher will be hosting workshops and lectures for the young artists.
“This is an exciting program for USC,” said Provost Michael Quick. “Art Division’s emerging artists are getting access to excellent artists and receiving new training that will help them be even more successful. This is a wonderful collaboration between a university-owned museum and a community nonprofit. It shows exactly how this university can offer access and opportunity and become true partners as artists for social change. I am proud and inspired by this effort.”
That art education that is the cornerstone of Art Division has allowed for Luis Hernandez to develop his taste in photography.
Hernandez expressed, “I like photo essays like Garry Winogrand and Robert Frank.”
These artists inspired Hernandez to work on a work on a series on factory workers.
“It still was personal because my dad works in a factory,” he said.
But the largest feature of the program that separates it from programs geared towards younger students is it also guides artists to become professionals, to pursue a more formal education or incorporate art into their profession.
Several Art Division graduates are regularly featured in galleries around Los Angeles, are pursuing college degrees or are artist’s assistance.
Art Division’s outlook on careers parallels their philosophy on art. As program director Dan McCleary said, the program aims to “ask [students] the question and letting them provide the answer” about what path to pursue.
Luis Mateo could not agree more.
He said, “I think the fact that we are persistent with what we’re doing constantly chasing it, whether we know or don’t know, something is bound to happen, something is bound to develop as we go and I think that’s what Art Division has helped us. It’s developed something.”
MONTARlaBestia and USC Fisher Museum of Art/Art Division: Artists in Residence
Since January 31, 2017, the USC Fisher Museum of Art has been collaborating with Art Division, a non-profit organization dedicated to training and supporting underserved young adults who are committed to studying visual arts, on a semester-long project that has brought Art Division students to the USC campus as part of a residency at the Fisher Museum.
Art Division students, surrounded by works from Fisher’s permanent collection in the museum’s center gallery, have been using the museum as their studio space while attending public workshops led by artists and scholars.
In March, with the collaboration of the Mexican Consulate of Los Angeles, artist Demián Flores will be at the Fisher Museum for a week, interacting with Art Division, USC students and the general public through his, Mardonio Carballo’s and Marco Barrera Bassols’ new project, MONTARlaBestia, which will take over Fisher’s center gallery for three weeks between March 19 – April 8, 2017. The project will be an interdisciplinary exploration of the possibilities of Fisher’s original collaboration.
MONTARlaBestia is an exhibition that responds to “La Bestia”– a train that carries as many as half a million Central American immigrants annually on their journey to the United States – through art and poetry by the artist collective, “El Colectivo Artistas Contra la Discriminación.”
Fisher Museum dives into the debate about immigration reform through MONTARlaBestia, thrilled to bring the Consul General of Mexico in Los Angeles, the Executive Director of ACLU’s Southern California chapter, the founder of Art Division, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and a PhD student whose work examines Latino immigrant youth to the table via public programming.
Supported by film screenings at the Mexican Consulate, as well as panels and workshops, Fisher will continue to keep the young artists in Art Division in the conversation with the understanding that they are the lightning rods for future artistic political activism.
For more information, visit fisher.usc.edu.
Demián Flores was first exhibited by the Fisher Museum in 2006 and has works in the museum’s permanent collection, as well as in the collections of El Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC) and London Print Studio, among others.
Mardonio Carballo is a renowned journalist, author, and social activist.
Marco Barrera Bassols is one of Mexico’s most esteemed independent curators. He has worked on important international art projects, including with MoMA in New York.
MONTARlaBestia and USC Fisher Museum of Art/Art Division: Artists in Residence
March 19 Opening Reception
Marco Barrera Bassols, Demián Flores, Mardonio Carballo, Curators of MONTARlaBestia
Professor Manuel Pastor, Director of the USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration (CSII)
Hector Villagra, Executive Director, ACLU of Southern California
Dan McCleary, Founder of Art Division
2:00 – 4:00 p.m.
Michael W. Quick, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs
Ambassador Carlos García de Alba, Consul General of Mexico in Los Angeles