By Tracy Gorden Teran
Morning chaos anticipation
Blank cement stairs and pillars important instructions mindfulness—and humility
Helpful hands of all sizes orange buckets of paste blue gloves
Collaboration on the ground
Paste in my hair backs sore sense of place
We are One
Sunday morning after a spring storm, Sunnyside High School became a site for an intergenerational artistic effort to paste hundreds of panels of photographs. Gallons of thick ivory-colored wheat paste —cooked the night before in large vats in the foods classroom—created the sticky foundation for a message about unity. “We are One” is the slogan of the 2017–2018 cohort of photography and marketing students guided by educator Tamela Ryatt.
The central photo-based image is of two converging faces on a vibrant, yellow background. The female figure is represented in profile, a crown of multicolored rose blossoms contrasts the grain of her pulled-back hair. A smile emerges from her painted lips, which blend into the wide grin of a male figure. His radiant, smiling face greets the viewer, while his female body-twin is positioned in a different direction. Diagonal teal lines shoot out from the single-face like bursts of radiant light forming a halo around this powerful human being.
Ryatt was glowing with energy as she delivered a series of instructions over swift gusts of wind. Students, teachers, administrators and community volunteers, including students from art appreciation courses at Clovis Community College and Fresno State gathered to complete the task. A family of cameras on tripods and a battalion of orange buckets overflowing with rolls of black-and-white paper joined her on stage as she explained each of the graphics stations and responsibilities associated with exhibiting them.
Eyes were affixed to her as she thanked a horde of people who had supported her throughout the academic year. The principal asked her at one point how she got to be so awesome. The question had been in the back of my mind since the day I met Ryatt at a Fresno Art Museum opening for Nancy Youdelman and Leslie Batty nearly a year ago.
Although I attempted to stay focused on Ryatt’s message, I could not help but attach myself to two points that she’d made during her residence on the stage. One, she defined the idea of being mindful of our artistic duty to the project; thus, granting participants both the power to act and our intense responsibility to achieve a high level of craft.
The second point was her expression of gratitude toward my efforts as a project consultant and her sisters, Diana Baldrica, Carolyn DeAnda and Dan Wong from Fresno City College, who helped her establish the photography lab at Sunnyside. Ryatt described Baldrica’s idea of sisterhood as chosen kinship and communion. The spirit of sisterhood is a metaphor that sits comfortably alongside this project and one that is helpful for thinking about our relationship to our community.
That morning I volunteered to paste a scaled-to fit grid of another super-human graphic over a flight of stairs. Images of futuristic cyborgs seem to penetrate contemporary art as we navigate artificial intelligence as the panacea of 21st-century problems. Yet these blended figures had a different aesthetic, one more humanist and fleshy, akin to the theory of La Raza Cosmica, posited by José Vasconcelos.
The stairwell seemed intimidating with its central steel rail and two landings. As I approached my creative task, the performer in me likened the grade of “Stairwell A” to the sharp drop of Half Dome—yet I squelched my fear and put on my most capable face to inspire my crew. I did not paste 72 strips alone. Six worked beside me. Alicia Moorman, Katrina Velazquez, Jordan Blanchard and her mother Pamela and Derek Lee of Clovis Community College, along with Edwin Cholula-Chavez from Fresno State, contributed their time, good humor and artistic skills.
The Seers: By Way of a Conclusion
The side of a building is a site where an artist can present a new way of living. For it is in the public eye that we can present models of creative possibilities to imagine the new world wherein we would like to coexist. Like a cloud-filled daydream, these images form visual expressions of wish fulfillment.
Vignettes of young adults decorate the campus pillars holding signs with slogans such as “I am Happy” or “I am Determined” (Ryatt’s slogan). These works of art shall mark the walls briefly, and disintegration is part of the aesthetic. Temporary models of living, they are contingent on the elements to dissolve them out of the collective memory.
Yet in their layover on those concrete walls, in the many hands of all colors that contributed to the process and particularly in the discarded buckets of smelly paste, this project offers an inspirational, instructional model of art-making. Those smiling faces, the images of incredible human beings coexisted for a discrete measurement of time with the actual people working collectively that Sunday in April. It seems an apt metaphor that this project makes its arrival on the concrete surface. For perhaps it is through artistic collaboration —a sisterly act of creativity alongside the representation of images of jubilant tolerance— that offers whispers of a life well lived or the life that we all hope to someday live.
Puffy clouds form on the hard concrete. Ensconced within the walls of the city limits of Fresno are other seers. They may lack a corpus, but the new Fresno edifice is being painted on her walls. They form a dossier of images of the life that we seek to create as a community. The life we can create. The life we are creating.
The seers take form in the galloping horses by muralist and project collaborator Robert Amador—voluminous and voluptuous forms as weighty as Michelangelo’s Ignudi. Like the central female image of the Sunnyside project, the horses seem to be seeking out a path outside the walls in which they are encapsulated. They seek out a different direction, a new guiding star and gallop toward a dream that is in the making.
Professor Tracy Gorden Teran teaches art appreciation and art history courses at Fresno State and Clovis Community College. She is also a performance and multimedia artist. You may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.