By Published: April 10, 2019

The opportunity to learn from renowned art faculty draws students to the Department of Art and Art History at CU Boulder.

Students will showcase their artwork in the Emerging Artists Open Studios scheduled for Friday, April 12, at the Visual Arts Complex in the Art and Art History Building. The event is co-sponsored by Open Studios Boulder and the King Family, in conjunction with the Conference on World Affairs. The opening reception and the King Scholarship announcement will begin at 5:30 p.m.

Elspeth Schulze, Haley Takahashi and Thomas Yi are three of the students exhibiting their art. They tell their stories of becoming artists.

Ideas erupt from an ancient volcano

Elspeth Schulze standing among piles of sand, chopped up asphalt and granite

Growing up in Louisiana 50 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, Elspeth Schulze was used to a landscape shaped by water. Cypress swamps, bayous and marshlands dominate the terrain. Moving to Colorado to attend CU Boulder’s graduate program in ceramics introduced her to a dramatically different landscape. 

On a road trip to Capulin Volcano National Monument in northeastern New Mexico for a field school class, Schulze watched transfixed as the land changed from the Rocky Mountains to the high desert, to rose-colored deserts and mesas. She was intrigued by the straight lines of roads, fences and electric lines bisecting the changing landscape.

These changes in landscape inspired her to artistically explore the idea of different landscapes and how humans try to control and contain them, sometimes unsuccessfully. Her explorations have led to her recent work titled Aggregate: The Unwilding.

“I’m interested in our desire to bend spaces to our will,” she said. “Seeing the volcano made such an impact. I started to see the relationship between rocks, sand, gravel, concrete and asphalt. I had this idea of people breaking the land down from larger pieces to smaller and smaller, but our inability to totally contain the landscape.”

Schulze’s piece is four neat piles of rose-pink granite, lavender granite from Wyoming, chopped asphalt and sand. Into the piles she has placed wire mesh fencing she bent into cylindrical shapes. On the wall is a collage of vintage postcards of Capulin Volcano and the surrounding land.

“I’d like people to consider the space they occupy,” Schulze said. “The mountains in Colorado are so dominant to the landscape. It’s the reason people move here. I think it’s easy to forget about the materials that shape our lives. What I’d like people to take away from this is an opportunity to really think about the space they’re in.

Schulze came to CU Boulder 10 years after earning her undergraduate degree from Loyola University in New Orleans. During that time, she had her own studio practice and worked as a gallery director at a small college in Michigan. Schulze loved the gallery job, but she began to crave focusing on her own art practice exclusively. 

“CU is the right place to do that,” Schulze said, of the ceramics program ranked fifth in the nation. “There’s nice balance between academic, research and studio work. That combination is important for students to succeed in the creative world. The program requires you to articulate your thought process and to understand the historical context, to think about your practice in a broad way while being specific at the same time. 

“The faculty here are really strong,” she said. As a grad student you are moving into a professional career. It’s a great guiding point to have relationships with faculty members and be around other student who are making work and finding their own path.”

Food photography with a twist

Thomas Yi with his framed food photography

Thomas Yi grew up around food preparation. His family owned a diner in Littleton. A senior in photography in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program, Yi has taken that background into his photos. 

By arranging and photographing still life images featuring food and flowers, he attempts to create a contradiction of divergent subjects in a variety of topics, such as beauty, love and sex. His research is based on social sciences involving race, ethnicity, religion and the photography of food culture. 

“Food has been a huge influence in my life,” he said. “I’m trying to take what comes from Asian food culture, sometimes something that people think is gross, and make it more attractive.” 

At first glance his photos appear to be lovely images of flowers. A closer look, reveals more. For example, a photo of what appears to be hands with the fingernails painted in bright colors artfully arranged among flowers is actually raw chicken feet with painted claws. He hopes people who come to the exhibit will pause at his photos and consider his unique perspective. 

Yi had no formal education in photography. He taught himself film processes. He credits Albert Chong, professor of photography, and Melanie Walker, associate professor of photography, for elevating his interest in photography interest. 

“Chong is hypercritical, but in the best way possible,” Yi said. “His guidance and interactions are life changing. You learn so much from an instructor or role model who does that.

“Melanie Walker’s approach to art helped guide me through thinking about different ways to create, present and experience my work, which reflects her own creative vision,” he said.

Yi is a print lab assistant for the department, which gives him experience working in that environment and assisting students. As the assistant lab coordinator, he is responsible for facilitating and maintaining daily lab functions for all photography students. 

He appreciates the feeling of a tight-knit community that exists among the undergraduates and graduate students in the BFA program. 

After graduating in May, Yi wants to focus on a career in the arts or some area closely related to the art field. 

“I would like to focus on a career related to photography in labs or facilities such as our own,” Yi said. “I enjoy working with students and love helping them achieve their best because it’s fun and there is no better feeling than doing what you love.”

‘My kimonos are my art’

Haley Takahashi with one of the kimonos she made for the exhibit

Through her art, Haley Takahashi wants to share her Japanese culture while shining a light on a period in American history she says has been nearly forgotten. During World War II, members of her family, who were of Japanese ancestry, were forced into internment camps where upwards of 120,000 Japanese Americans were held in 1942–45.

A senior studying printmaking, Takahashi is drawing on her family history for her art. She tells their stories is through the kimonos she makes. One of the kimonos in the exhibit is made from 28 yards of fabric onto which she has printed the fliers of rules that governed the Japanese-Americans during that tumultuous time.

“I’m half Japanese, so I have a deep connection with the history of printmaking and imagery in Japan,” Takahashi said. “There’s racial discrimination happening, travel bans, families being separated in the world, but it already happened. History is repeating itself.”

Takahashi started at CU majoring in art history with an art minor. Throughout high school, she had been ridiculed by her fellow students and told by her mentors that she “could never make it as an artist.”

Peer pressure is a powerful influence. Being repeatedly told she wasn’t talented enough, eventually the negativity took hold. 

A serendipitous opportunity to take a printmaking class with Melanie Yazzie, head of the printmaking department, changed her life.

“I came to college feeling defeated, but I knew I wanted to do art,” Takahashi said. “She sat me down and said, ‘You're an artist. You're wasting your potential if you don't follow this dream.’ My desire to be an artist has been fostered so amazingly in this program.

“I want to showcase my diverse cultural identity in a way that can't be ignored,” she said. “I want people to walk past that [exhibit] room and be drawn to come in and see my art. My Japanese heritage is part of who I am, and my kimonos are my canvas.”