Exhibit showcases RAC mentor-mentee artist legacy

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The Richmond Art Center celebrated its 80th anniversary last Saturday with the opening of “Making Our Mark and Making New Paths,” an exhibit that builds a family tree of artists and their mentees. The show includes work by 14 artists who jumpstarted their careers by showing work at RAC, alongside pieces by younger artists they have mentored and believed in.

“Making Our Mark and Making New Paths” was inspired by RAC’s mission, which is to give voice to new artists and open the galleries to new visions, said curator Jan Wurm. The idea behind the show was to “reflect the Richmond Art Center as a place where young artists could both show their work and find support as they grow into the different phases of their artistic, creative lives,” she said.

The exhibition features works in a variety of mediums, including paintings, ceramics, fiber art, sculptures and photographs. Pieces by mentors and mentees sit close to one another in the gallery, letting visitors see the flow of inspiration and ideas between teacher and student.

Mentee Michael Hall’s sculpture of a soldier shares themes of war and healing with mentor Hung Liu’s nearby painting of a war horse.

And mentee Yvette Deas questions the rose-colored history of the 1950s and 1960s by placing archival articles on the civil rights movement beneath a painting of a family dinner scene from “The Andy Griffith Show”—subverting pop culture references in the same way mentor Enrique Chagoya does in his painting Untitled (after Yves Saint Laurent), a skewering of haute couture fashion.

RAC was founded in 1936 by local Bay Area artist Hazel Salmi, who believed that art is a necessary component of every community.

“During the Great Depression”—when RAC was founded—“nothing else like this existed in the East Bay,” Wurms said. To this day, admission is free, allowing anyone to come and visit. “And for artists, it was vital to have a space to show their work,” Wurm said.

Featured artist and mentor Jim Melchert first showed his work at RAC back in 1959, when he was a graduate student in fine art at UC Berkeley. “Student work was given an audience…what a wonderful thing,” he said.

In “Making our Mark,” Melchert’s work—“Vertices for Dancing,” two large, ceramic tiles mounted to the wall—exude contemporary energy. The paintings of his mentee, Ethan Caflisch, play with abstracted, geometric forms and negative space with a similar vibrancy.

Showcasing contemporary work by established artists and by students is one way that RAC has remained a reference point for up-and-coming Bay Area artists, said Melchert. “I am always exposed to something exciting and new at RAC,” he said.

The exhibit opening was the first in a series of events celebrating RAC’s 80th anniversary this fall. A community celebration will be held on Sept. 23. Artist talks with artists featured in the “Making Our Mark” exhibit will be held on Oct. 15 and Nov. 5.

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