New Wanlass Artist in Residence Shizu Saldamando discusses work, previews upcoming course at Occidental

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Shizu Saldamando, "May, Post Break-up," oil on wood, collage. Artwork courtesy of the artist.

During a public lecture in the Morrison Lounge, the 2019–2020 Oxy Arts Wanlass Artist in Residence, Shizu Saldamando, discussed her work and upcoming Fall 2019 course at Occidental College March 19. Speaking to an audience of students and faculty, Saldamando described her artistic interest in representations of human bodies, community and self-identification.

Saldamando was born in San Francisco and is a graduate of art programs at the University of California, Los Angeles and the California Institute of the Arts where she received a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Fine Arts respectively. Saldamando currently lives and works in Los Angeles as an artist. Her lecture showcased a wide variety of her work, including paintings, drawings and video installations. However, Saldamando said she focuses primarily on paintings and drawings based on photos she has taken. In the past, her work has been featured in exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

As the Wanlass Artist in Residence, Saldamando will teach a studio art course entitled “Body Talk: deconstructing representations of the figure in contemporary art” during the Fall 2019 semester. According to Saldamando, the course will consider how art and the media portray the human body, considered through post-colonial discourse, intersectional feminist and gender theory and identity politics.

Despite the heavy emphasis on literature and feminist and gender theory, Saldamando noted the course will seek to balance its theoretical discussions with hands-on studio art.

“Since I primarily am a figurative portraitist I designed the class around my own practice,” Saldamando said via email. “I have taught representational drawing several times before and I find it’s really important to not only focus on the techniques of drawing the human form but also to really consider the historical context and theoretical ramifications that go along with representing a human being.”

Saldamando hopes students who take the course will not only improve their artistic skills but develop a greater understanding of how society and the media shape perceptions of the body.

“I find a lot of artists really have forgot to consider the way the figure has been portrayed not only by art history but also by popular media as a whole,” Saldamando said via email. “I think the ability to understand and unpack the history of figurative art and image making is [the] most important aspect of the course. The technical drawing and painting aspects that we will learn, hopefully, will further add to that understanding.”

Saldamando’s own work offers a glimpse at what the course will cover. During her lecture, Saldamando’s unique process of creating paintings and drawings based on her own photographs highlighted her interest in defying conventions of gender and body image. Many of her paintings and drawings focus on images taken from nightlife and music culture while also highlighting the Bay Area and Los Angeles communities she has spent time in. One example of her work, entitled “Carm’s Crew,” depicts a group of Saldamando’s friends in what she described as an homage to the punk music scene.

With the course, Saldamando intends to include other local practicing artists as a means of expanding its scope.

“I am inviting lots of guest artists to participate and share their own practice,” Saldamando said via email. “I hope students come away with an understanding of the different types of ‘art practice’ that exist and the different art worlds that help inform that.”

While the course will occupy Saldamando’s time at Occidental during the fall, an exhibition featuring her work will take place during the Spring 2020 semester at the new Oxy Arts building located on York Boulevard, similar to the exhibition held for the 2018-2019 Wanlass Artist in Residence Candice Lin.

According to Meldia Yesayan, director of Oxy Arts, the artist in residence programs represent a collaboration between Oxy Arts and the art & art history department that seeks to bring exceptional artists to campus to work with students. Oxy Arts bases their choice for an artist in residence upon criteria such as the artists’ contribution to the field, their interest in collaborating with the local community and hosting open events that students of all disciplines can participate in. For Yesayan and others involved in the selection process, Saldamando embodied these qualities well.

“Shizu was chosen for her incredibly strong drawing and painting technique as well as her unique visual aesthetic,” Yesayan said via email. “Her work speaks to the experiences of our community, and provides an expansive and inclusive take on historic portraiture.”

For studio art student Emma Connelly (junior), Saldamando’s course appeared particularly interesting, even if its focus on painting and drawing does not reflect her own interests.

“I don’t really do drawing and painting, and when I do, I’m definitely not doing traditional representational stuff like the way [Saldamando] does,” Connelly said. “I’m really interested in that as well, but I don’t do with the way she does it.”

Nonetheless, Connelly remained excited about the course.

“[Saldamando] seems like she’s about us all making our own things and thinking from the same place,” Connelly said. “I’m so optimistic and excited.”

Saldamando’s class will take place in Fall 2019.