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Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture Alumni Exhibition now at OCCCA

“Pasalubong #10,” a handwoven blue tarp created by artist Carol Anne Almocera McChrystal.
“Pasalubong #10,” a handwoven floor piece made of single-use plastics, grommets and plastic bag cordage, 34 inches by 68 inches created by artist Carol Anne Almocera McChrystal in 2021 and appearing at Orange County Center for Contemporary Art Jan. 6 through 27.
(Courtesy of OCCCA)
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An exhibit at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art this month will feature a gathering of alumni — from a school on the other side of the nation.

California artists Annette Cyr and Rebecca Shippee both studied at the renowned summer residency program of the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Cyr, who lives in San Diego and New York City, and Shippee, who lives in Echo Park, say they are excited to curate the alumni exhibit at OCCCA for the school’s first West Coast exhibition.

The 350-acre Skowhegan campus, established in 1946, is located in central Maine and is a nine-week residency program for artists. The focus is on diversity and inclusivity, where artists make the commitment to take risks beyond market and academic expectations.

“It’s big deal a lot of alumni here are really excited about meeting each other,” said Cyr. “This is a good situation to bring alumni from Skowhegan and for OCCCA, which are both nonprofits, and to have a whole new group of artists learn about their exhibit space.”

Shippee agreed, “It’s really exciting to have this exhibit bring different Skowhegan years together, so that everyone can make connections.” She went on saying, “It’s a strong community out here with more and more galleries, and more Skowhegan alums are moving to Southern California, which has a strong art community, even better than ever.”

Shippee and Cyr, who have previously partnered as co-curators together in Chelsea, N.Y., decided on a theme of “Moved/Displaced,” which includes migration and displacement from a wide variety of perspectives. Their membership in the Skowhegan Alliance, comprised of the alumni community from different residency years, provides opportunities to connect and create events to better serve members.

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“We sent an open call to Skowhegan alumni who are living in California, since this is really a theme and concern of a wide range of artists,” explained Cyr, who added that each of the 28 artists had also submitted a written statement on the subject.

In one such statement, artist Deborah Vodhanel wrote, “The chaos of loss can reduce one’s identity to a mass of unreliable fleeting feelings that need to be gotten under control by some sort of discipline imposed from the outside. We fear the imposition. We procrastinate until we can’t.”

Santa Ana artist Marcel Acalà's “My Abuela’s Cactus,” 60 inches by 48 inches, oil on canvas.
Santa Ana artist Marcel Acalà’s “My Abuela’s Cactus,” 60 inches by 48 inches, oil on canvas, 2023, will be on display at Orange County Center for Contemporary Art Jan. 6 through 27.
(Courtesy of OCCCA)

Santa Ana artist Marcel Alcala wrote, “My mom immigrated to the states in the ’60s with my grandma from Jalisco. She worked the fields in San Juan Capistrano picking Anaheim chilis and green beans. Later she worked with my grandpa and her brothers on the production line making Vans, when it was based in Garden Grove.

The artwork Alcala submitted is about a cactus his grandmother planted in 1983. It’s an homage, he writes, “to my family’s hard labor and connection to this earth. A plant that continues to be used generation after generation making tacos for anyone that walks into her home.”

“We’re in charge of coming up with a theme, selecting artwork that really shines and represents the art and will support the thesis,” said Cyr, who explained that the theme was a result of her thoughts about common concerns, so if something is important to her it’s probably worth exploring with other artists and in their work as well.

“As a curator I’m always looking to find opportunity for artists in which their work can shine and also for new audiences to experience their quality art exhibits with a compelling theme,” said Cyr. “It’s not just enough to toss a bunch of art together.”

“Yellow bag 22," a 24-inch by 19-inch chalk pastel on paper by artist Jenny Gagalka, 2021.
“Yellow bag 22,” a 24-inch by 19-inch chalk pastel on paper by artist Jenny Gagalka, 2021, at Orange County Center for Contemporary Art this month.
(Courtesy of OCCCA)

Cyr added that the secondary part of the exhibit invited attendees to share and write down experiences and solutions on the subject.

Shippee said that they are expecting 600 people to attend on opening night, Jan. 6, which coordinates with the monthly Artwalk that occurs in the downtown Santa Ana Artist Village. OCCCA is located in the downtown Santa Ana Artist Village at 117 North Sycamore St., and the exhibit will run through Jan. 27. Hours are Friday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

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