A photograph of ArtCenter's South Campus, overlaid with the viewing room title Artists for Art Center: A Benefit Sale.

Featuring works donated by renowned alumni and faculty members, this online-only presentation is part of the inaugural fundraising effort for ArtCenter’s Free GradArt initiative, led by artists Stan Douglas, current chair of the Graduate Art department, and Diana Thater, former chair and a core faculty member for the past twenty-seven years. The initiative aims to address the rising debt levels of young artists, with all proceeds from this benefit sale going to the Graduate Art MFA scholarship fund at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California.

A photo of Laurence Dreiband, Richard Hertz, Sabrina Ott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, and student Steve Roden at ArtCenter, dated 1989.

Founding and formative members of the faculty at ArtCenter’s Graduate Art program critique work by Steve Roden (MFA ’89). Pictured from left to right: Laurence Dreiband, Richard Hertz, Sabina Ott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, and Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, 1989. © Art Center College of Design/Steven A. Heller

Founding and formative members of the faculty at ArtCenter’s Graduate Art program critique work by Steve Roden (MFA ’89). Pictured from left to right: Laurence Dreiband, Richard Hertz, Sabina Ott, Stephen Prina, Mike Kelley, and Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, 1989. © Art Center College of Design/Steven A. Heller

Officially formed in 1986, the Graduate Art Department at ArtCenter has emphasized both studio practice and rigorous theoretical coursework from the beginning, with artists such as Mike Kelley and Christopher Williams as well as theoreticians like Semiotext(e) founder Sylvère Lotringer as instructors.

The works featured in this presentation reflect these challenging formal and theoretical considerations, and are a legacy of the community and ethos of the Graduate Art program—which the Free Grad Art initiative aims to make more accessible to a more diverse audience. “Ultimately,” says Douglas, “we want to raise enough money to provide a tuition-free experience for each of the thirty-five artists enrolled in the MFA program.”

Support the Graduate Art Program at ArtCenter.

Aaron Curry

A mixed media artwork by Aaron Curry, titled In Light of Dark Matter, dated 2019.

Aaron Curry

In Light of Dark Matter, 2019
Acrylic and gouache on canvas
91 x 112 inches (231.1 x 284.5 cm)

The work of Aaron Curry (MFA ’05) is a constellation of art historical and pop cultural touchstones, from Alexander Calder and surrealism to skateboarding and science fiction. His graphic sculptures, paintings, and collages are often rendered in bright neon color schemes that evoke his upbringing in 1980s skate culture as well as his education under the Chicago Imagists. While trained as a painter, Curry became best known for his sculptures inspired by modernists such as Calder, Noguchi, and Picabia, but coated in vibrant, airbrushed paint. 

For his work In Light of Dark Matter, Curry utilizes the modernist biomorphic forms central to his oeuvre and places them within the kitschy, vibrant world of science fiction. In this series, Curry notes that he had “been thinking a lot about cosmological orgies, about matter being created.” What emerges in In Light of Dark Matter is a swirling black hole of Miro-esque forms and spray-paint solar systems—a big bang of influence.

A detail of an artwork by Aaron Curry, called In Light of Dark Matter, dated 2019
Aaron Curry, In Light of Dark Matter, 2019 (detail). © Aaron Curry. Photo by Daniel Perez. Courtesy the artist
Aaron Curry, In Light of Dark Matter, 2019 (detail). © Aaron Curry. Photo by Daniel Perez. Courtesy the artist

Stan Douglas

A photograph by Stan Douglas, titled Exodus, 1975, dated 2012.

Stan Douglas

Exodus, 1975, 2012
Digital chromogenic print mounted on aluminum
Image: 71 x 101 1/2 inches (180.3 x 257.8 cm)
Framed: 74 x 104 1/2 inches (188 x 265.4 cm)

A core faculty member of ArtCenter since 2009 and the current Chair of the Graduate Art program, Stan Douglas has created films and photographs that investigate the parameters of their medium since the late 1980s. His work is currently featured in the 59th Venice Biennale, where Douglas is the artist representing Canada.

A Digital chromogenic print by Stan Douglas titled Exodus, 1975, dated 2012
Stan Douglas, Exodus, 1975, 2012
Stan Douglas, Exodus, 1975, 2012

Douglas uses the photographic medium as a tool for understanding the interpersonal dynamics that arise in moments of societal fracture and change. Featured here, Exodus, 1975 is a significant work from Douglas’s 2012 series Disco Angola. To create the work, he assumed the fictional character of a photo-journalist who was a regular in the burgeoning disco underground of early 1970s New York. Evolving out of funk and soul, disco mobilized the gay community in particular, and its self-conscious embrace of glamour and fashion represented a departure from the previous decade’s counterculture. The photographs by Douglas’s fictional character reveal subtle parallels between the emergent disco culture and the Angolan liberation struggles of the same era.

A photo by Juan Posada of a graduate art seminar with Stan Douglas at ArtCenter College of Design, dated 2022.

A graduate art seminar with Stan Douglas at ArtCenter College of Design, 2022. © ArtCenter College of Design/Juan Posada

A graduate art seminar with Stan Douglas at ArtCenter College of Design, 2022. © ArtCenter College of Design/Juan Posada

“One thing that has always distinguished ArtCenter’s Graduate Art Department from other programs is our emphasis on discourse as well as material practice. Our students need to be able to make work well but they also need to be able to articulate what it means and how it means. It’s not about imposing ideas on students but rather about giving them the tools to manifest the ideas they need to manifest.”

—Stan Douglas

Nathan Hylden

A painting by Nathan Hylden, called Untitled, dated 2022.

Nathan Hylden

Untitled, 2022
Acrylic on linen
60 x 67 1/2 inches (152.4 x 171.4 cm)

The compositions of Nathan Hylden (MFA ’06) often engage with issues of ephemerality and the physicality of his artistic process. His process is quick, layering silkscreened images onto several sheets of aluminum and washing them with paint all at once. What emerges are semi-abstracted, hazy works that call to mind the compositions of Andy Warhol and Christopher Wool.

An artwork by Nathan Hylden, called Untitled, dated 2022

Nathan Hylden, Untitled, 2022 (detail). © Nathan Hylden. Photo by Hylden Studio. Courtesy Misako & Rosen Tokyo

Nathan Hylden, Untitled, 2022 (detail). © Nathan Hylden. Photo by Hylden Studio. Courtesy Misako & Rosen Tokyo

Hands isolated from subjects’ bodies have emerged as an important motif in Hylden’s work, as seen in the present work, Untitled (2022), where only suit sleeves and jewelry—symbols of power and wealth—are visible. “I crop the images to remove the heads or faces of the figures. For me this not only isolates the hands but takes away the specificity of the image, removing the most important aspects of its context. I welcome both the sense of mystery of the headless figure and the sense of comedy this creates,” wrote Hylden in a statement for his related series As It Is from 2020. “It is often the case that the figure is a political official and that these gestures may imply any number of dubious conversations of the moment.”

A photo of artist Nathan Hylden doing a studio visit with an ArtCenter GradArt student named Jane Christensen, dated 2022.

Nathan Hylden doing a studio visit with an ArtCenter GradArt student Jane Christensen, 2022. © ArtCenter College of Design

Nathan Hylden doing a studio visit with an ArtCenter GradArt student Jane Christensen, 2022. © ArtCenter College of Design

“In my first week [at ArtCenter], Pauline Stella Sanchez arranged to screen Michael Snow’s La Région Centrale on film in an auditorium at the school. There was pizza and a few of us were just standing around when Mike Kelley came down the stairs and said, ‘Well, that solves dinner, and grabbed a slice of the cold pizza. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, that’s Mike Kelley, and he’s here for structuralist film and free pizza just like the rest of us.’ This, to me, was the feeling of Los Angeles and ArtCenter in particular at the time—there were all these great artists just naturally present without pretense.”

—Nathan Hylden

Sharon Lockhart

A photograph by Sharon Lockhart, titled Mike, dated 2021.

Sharon Lockhart

Mike, 2021
Chromogenic print
43 x 53 1/2 inches (109.2 x 135.9 cm)

The photographs and films of Sharon Lockhart (MFA ’93) investigate the unstable relationships between the two mediums, often addressing issues of labor, feminism, and film history. Drawing upon the history of film and photography, she meticulously stages events and portraits that engage with the mediums’ relationships to the quotidien and the dramatic; the fictional and the real; and the social and the private.

The title of the present work refers to Lockhart’s friend, mentor, and fellow artist Mike Kelley, a former faculty member of the Graduate Art program and a critical part of the school’s history. Created in collaboration with an Ikebana artist, the image is a memorial to Kelley, who passed away in 2012. 

“Mike [Kelley] had an interesting take on memorials; he favored the small gestures we make towards memorializing in everyday life, rather than the grand traditional gestures made on behalf of the state,” writes Lockhart. “For Mike, I started with a set of whiskey jugs (which, to my knowledge, are not directly represented in his work but somehow seem perfectly appropriate) and then progressed to the idea of a spill or explosion—something that questioned the typical sense of order that Mike always worked against. ”

A detail of a photograph by Sharon Lockhart, titled Mike, dated 2021.

Sharon Lockhart, Mike, 2021. © Sharon Lockhart. Photo by David Regan. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery and Sharon Lockhart

Sharon Lockhart, Mike, 2021. © Sharon Lockhart. Photo by David Regan. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery and Sharon Lockhart

“ArtCenter taught me how to look at film, film history, and turned me on to so much through the lecture series when they would bring in filmmakers and friends. It changed my life and I doubt I would have ever made a film without ArtCenter.”

—Sharon Lockhart

Ivan Morley

A mixed media artwork by Ivan Morley, titled Tehachepi (sic): A True Tale, dated 2021.

Ivan Morley

Tehachepi (sic): A True Tale, 2021
Thread and watercolor on canvas
63 3/4 x 30 inches (161.9 x 76.2 cm)

The work of Ivan Morley (MFA ’00) is an ode to slow, labor-intensive art making. Morley explained his old-fashioned techniques in an interview with Elephant magazine, saying that his “painting is a literal measurement of a passage of time….” He works in a range of mediums from embroidery to glass painting, collaging materials with various narratives and imagery. Appearing abstract at times, akin to old New York School paintings, Morley’s work often contains and conceals vintage comics, street signs, floral motifs, and art historical references.

Many of Morley’s tapestries are inspired by and titled after the names of obscure towns in California, where he lives and works. He has applied the title Tehachepi (sic): A True Tale to various paintings for decades. Outside of its title, the present work relates to the artist’s long-standing interest in blurring imagery and material. Watercolor melts into embroidered thread, figures droop into abstract shapes, and words bleed into illegibility.

A watercolor painting by Ivan Morley titled Tehachepi (sic): A True Tale, dated 2021

Ivan Morley, Tehachepi (sic): A True Tale, 2021 (detail). © Ivan Morley. Photo by Lee Thompson. Courtesy David Kordansky Gallery

Ivan Morley, Tehachepi (sic): A True Tale, 2021 (detail). © Ivan Morley. Photo by Lee Thompson. Courtesy David Kordansky Gallery

“While I was a graduate student at ArtCenter in the late ’90s, I collected faculty quotes that I continue to use, including what Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe said: ‘Let art history follow rather than determine what your work is.’”

—Ivan Morley

Shahryar Nashat

A mixed media artwork by Shahryar Nashat, titled Poser (Low-Angle), dated 2016.

Shahryar Nashat

Poser (Low-Angle), 2016
Silkscreen and inkjet on paper in artist's frame
36 x 48 inches (91.4 x 121.9 cm)

Appointed core faculty of Graduate Art in 2021, Shahryar Nashat makes sculptures, photographs, films, and installations that investigate the uneasy relationship between spectator and body by centering on the human figure. The worlds he creates are often rendered in baby pinks and blues but center upon more adult imagery. Nashat’s work is simultaneously soft, fragile, harsh, and resilient—all tied to the artist’s investigation of sexuality. “Desire is a very important starting point in making a work. The opinionated gaze is connected to desire and to obsession with an image,” notes Nashat.

In Poser (Low-Angle), Nashat exhibits a continued interest in the display of the human body. The photographs could be referencing a range of modes, from classical sculpture to pornography. Cropped, they appear stolen from context as well as tone: Sometimes raunchy, sometimes tender, they engage with desire as an unstable state.

Joshua Nathanson

A mixed media artwork by Joshua Nathanson, titled The Kettle, dated 2019.

Joshua Nathanson

The Kettle, 2019
Acrylic and oil on canvas and panel
91 x 80 inches (231.1 x 203.2 cm)

The paintings of Joshua Nathanson (MFA ’06) bridge reality with fantastical, dreamlike worlds that belie an underlying nightmarish quality. Filling his canvases with anthropomorphized, child-like, and distorted figures and objects, Nathanson renders his characters in a variety of media ranging from traditional oil paint to iPad apps, Photoshop, and inkjet printers. Stick figures wander through a spray painted wasteland, or skateboarding sharks get caught in a tornado of scribbles. 

The Kettle, while being acrylic and oil on canvas and panel, has the graphic qualities of a digital drawing—a style Nathanson has mastered. The cartoonish kettle at the center of the composition exemplifies Nathanson’s interest in merging object with person, the synthetic with the real. As noted in the exhibition catalogue for the 2020 group show Art in the Age of Anxiety, at the Sharjah Art Foundation, the work is a “visual metaphor of a love scene.”

A detail of a painting by Joshua Nathanson titled The Kettle, dated 2019.

Joshua Nathanson, The Kettle, 2019 (detail). © Joshua Nathanson. Photo by Joshua Nathanson. Courtesy Various Small Fires

Joshua Nathanson, The Kettle, 2019 (detail). © Joshua Nathanson. Photo by Joshua Nathanson. Courtesy Various Small Fires

“When Kim Fischer and Jason Meadows started teaching at ArtCenter, their energy was infectious. Their attitude was like, ‘go for it.’ Christopher Williams was like that too. I realized that in addition to being well-read and thinking deep thoughts, it was also essential to allow wild energy to enter into the process of making.”

—Joshua Nathanson

Laura Owens

An untitled painting by Laura Owens, dated 2021.

Laura Owens

Untitled, 2021
Oil, Flashe, and oil pastel on linen
69 x 60 inches (175.3 x 152.4 cm)

For over two decades, Los Angeles-based artist Laura Owens has developed a pioneering experimental approach to painting that challenges the material and conceptual limits of the medium. A Graduate Art program faculty member, Owens makes multilayered works that combine diverse motifs drawn from art history and vernacular culture including folk art, coloring books, Matisse, The Berkeley Barb, and Cubism, among other sources. Owens incorporates these varied references into her work using a wide range of techniques and materials—from traditional oil painting to silkscreening and needlework.

A detail of a painting by Laura Owens titled Untitled, dated 2021.

Laura Owens, Untitled, 2021 (detail). © Laura Owens. Photography by Ron Amstutz. Courtesy the artist, Sadie Coles HQ, London, and Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

Laura Owens, Untitled, 2021 (detail). © Laura Owens. Photography by Ron Amstutz. Courtesy the artist, Sadie Coles HQ, London, and Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

In her practice, Owens often combines hand-painted marks with screenprinted images that she develops using digital imaging software. The present work incorporates an elaborate design taken from a nineteenth century French jacquard-woven textile, which the artist came across in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection, as well as trompe l’oeil newspaper clippings reproducing early twentieth century articles about Vincent van Gogh, each individually screenprinted in Flashe; hand-drawn marks in oil pastel; and thick impasto marks in oil paint. An important influence for the artist, Van Gogh was an especially relevant subject for Owens around the time she made Untitled. Owens was living for part of the year in Arles, France, where Van Gogh had famously worked and attempted to establish an artist’s colony. While there, Owens studied the artist’s life and work in preparation for Laura Owens & Vincent van Gogh, a 2021 exhibition at the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles that presented her own new and old works alongside several paintings by the master post-Impressionist.

Sterling Ruby

A painting by Sterling Ruby, titled WIDW. CZU LIGHTNING FIRE., dated 2020.

Sterling Ruby

WIDW. CZU LIGHTNING FIRE., 2020
Acrylic, oil, and cardboard on canvas
24 x 19 inches (61 x 48.3 cm)
Framed: 25 5/8 x 20 5/8 inches (65.1 x 52.4 cm)

Sterling Ruby (MFA ’05) works within a multiverse of inspiration and media, developing a practice that is ever-expanding through painting, sculpture, ceramics, drawing, and video. His oeuvre is inherently unstable and intentionally evokes a sense of paranoia in order to negotiate the chaos of history and form, whether through art historical investigations or through the mining of personal and public histories.

Ruby has been creating WIDW (‘window’) paintings since 2016. Composed of acrylic, oil, and collaged cardboard and textile on canvas, the windows are an excavation of Ruby’s own practice. By using scraps of his own work, Ruby “realized that I could use my own history and older bodies of work as this kind of archaeological legacy.” The expressionistic WIDWs open up onto a world of both personal memory and collective trauma, chaos, and imbalance. WIDW. CZU LIGHTING FIRE. cites the California CZU Lighting Fires that began in August 2020 and raged through the San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties. This event haunts the Los Angeles-based artist’s work where thick, layered paint rendered in bloody reds evokes a raging fire threatening the unstable grid of a window.

A detail of a painting by Sterling Ruby titled WIDW. CZU LIGHTNING FIRE., dated 2020.

Sterling Ruby, WIDW. CZU LIGHTNING FIRE., 2020 (detail). © Sterling Ruby. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer. Courtesy Sterling Ruby Studio

Sterling Ruby, WIDW. CZU LIGHTNING FIRE., 2020 (detail). © Sterling Ruby. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer. Courtesy Sterling Ruby Studio

Diana Thater

An installation by Diana Thater, titled Natural History One, dated 2019.

Diana Thater

Natural History One, 2019
Five (5) monitors, one (1) media player, and two (2) LED light fixtures
Diameter: 96 inches (243.8 cm)

Former chair of ArtCenter’s Graduate Art department, a core faculty member for the last twenty-seven years, and a graduate of the program, Diana Thater (MFA ’90) has created pioneering films, videos, and installations, the primary theme of which is the tension between the natural environment and mediated reality—and by extension, between the tamed and the wild. Her evocative and sometimes nearly abstract works interact with their surroundings to produce an intricate relationship between time and space.

Thater’s Natural History One (2019)—currently on view in the lobby entrance of one of ArtCenter’s newest buildings—is from a small series of works that Thater began in the summer of 2019 for which she filmed several species of California butterflies. From the footage, Thater created a series of video walls composed of five screens arranged in the loose shape of a flower with LED light fixtures interspersed, bathing the wall and presentation space in an ambient glow. Each screen shows a fragment of the video, which, if combined, would present the complete image.

Diana Thater, Natural History One, 2019. © Diana Thater

“As an undergrad at NYU, I took a class in the film department. One of the films we watched mesmerized me—but I couldn’t remember the title. When I got to ArtCenter, I asked our film guru, Stephen Prina, if he knew this film and I described it. He quickly responded: ‘That’s Hollis Frampton’s film Zorns Lemma.’ Not long after, Stephen taught an entire class on Hollis Frampton. Frampton’s work has occupied my mind ever since. It was brilliant, but it was really the way Prina taught that changed my worldview.

The brilliant professors I studied with introduced me to culture—to all of culture. We made art but we also watched performances, screened films, listened to music, and read literature and philosophy. From the shared experience of graduate school, peer groups are formed. And THAT is what a young artist has when they leave school—a community.”

—Diana Thater

 photo of the exterior of ArtCenter College of Design’s Graduate Art program’s exhibition of works by its Spring 2019 graduating class, dated 2019.

Support the Graduate Art Program at ArtCenter.

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