Art alumni get a new opportunity to share work

The Art Department at Sonoma State University is currently holding an alumni exhibition in the art gallery from Feb. 14 to March 10. 

The gallery is titled “Then and Now” and features the work of 39 former Sonoma State students who are either currently pursuing careers as professional artists or teaching art at the college and high school level.

The exhibition contains beautiful oil on canvas paintings, ink on paper drawings, sculptures, photographs and more that are represented by former students all over the country.

The University Art Gallery presents “Then and Now: The Fortieth Anniversary Alumni Exhibition.” Sculpture by Amy Sampson. STAR // Will Hahn

The University Art Gallery presents “Then and Now: The Fortieth Anniversary Alumni Exhibition.” Sculpture by Amy Sampson. STAR // Will Hahn

 Michael Schwager, art gallery director and professor in Art History at Sonoma State, said that all of the pieces came from Sonoma and the Bay Area to other areas such as Hawaii, New York and the northwest. 

Schwager said that 17 of the former students in the current show had taught or are currently teaching art at the college level, while others have taught art in high school and beyond. He only chose former students for the exhibition who are currently producing art are active artists, while also looking at current pieces on some of the artists’ websites. 

“I looked through all of our records starting in 1978, and you know, it’s not easy to find all of the artists that continue to make art,” he said. 

Nevertheless, Schwager was delighted that everyone he contacted was thrilled about being able to be a part of the exhibition. He said that everyone he contacted got back to him quickly, with the exception of a few alumni due to inaccurate email addresses. 

There was no rush to receive the art from the artists since the shipping of most of the art took about a week and the art department was planning the exhibition in the Fall. 

Carla Stone, university art gallery coordinator, said that the shipping for all of the art was fairly straightforward with no damages or complications. 

“All of the shipping was straightforward—either the work was shipped from out of town or it was hand-delivered by artists still living in Sonoma County,” she said.

 Stone also knew many of the artists that submitted their work and therefore correspondence with them was enjoyable. 

The exhibition contains about two to three pieces of work from each artist, which was Schwager’s idea. He also said that the title of the exhibition refers to former students’ current work that they accomplished since then. All of the pieces are contemporary, mostly ranging from the mid 1990s to today. 

 The pieces in the art gallery are made with similar materials, but vary in style. There are paintings of a self-portrait and a movie audience, to a photograph of a costume store and a silicone sculpture with sushi on top of it. 

“For so many works of art, there’s not always an easy explanation,” Schwager said. “Especially when the artist gives you a title like ‘Untitled’, you are like, ‘Okay, I have to figure this out myself,’ and having it down on the floor and not up on a pedestal just makes you kind of wonder what story it is.”

Schwager said that he is very pleased with the way this exhibition has been handled. He has dealt with in the past trying to obtain art from around the world and many other areas of the United States, which can be quite difficult. 

Fortunately, most of the students who participated in the exhibition were from Sonoma County and the Bay Area. Not only does the proximity help, but former students who submitted their art handled it properly with care, so there were no worries about damages or altercations with the work being shipped. 

Some of the alumni had not been in touch with Schwager for at least 20 years, so it was a great experience for him to reach out to them and he hopes to have more alumni exhibitions in the future. Subsequently, he hopes that not only students will visit the art gallery and shows, but also the surrounding community. 

The “Then and Now” exhibition would also be a great learning opportunity for students and faculty. “I’d like to encourage any faculty to make use of the gallery as a resource; to bring their students to write about the art, look at the art, or talk about the art,” he said. “You know, find connections to what’s in the gallery with what they are teaching.”

For some, art can just be staring at a painting for five seconds and then walking away to look at a sculpture for the same amount of time. However, for others, art can inspire, spark creativity and make us think. This exhibit is a fantastic representation of contemporary art from all different angles. 

“I think one of the great beauties of looking at contemporary art is that the viewer is required to step up and do some work themselves,” said Schwager.