Mary A. Castillo
One year ago, Erin Fusco, a 16-year-old visual arts student at
Laguna Beach High School was getting ready for school when her friend
called and said the words many others over the world heard that
morning, “Turn on the news.”
“My dad turned on the TV but I refused to watch it,” Erin said,
remembering Sept. 11. “It wasn’t until I was in second period biology
when someone turned on the TV and I fully realized what had
After the images made an indelible mark on her, she was eager to
express her awakening to such intense fear and hatred that not only
sparked the attacks but reverberated after them. Her outlet was her
computer graphics piece that became part of a class project
supervised by Peter Tiner.
“I wanted to have a platform for the kids to respond to America at
war,” said Tiner, chair of the visual arts department at the high
school. “I wanted them to be able to process a sense of place and
feeling through the work and their imagination.”
The body of work completed last February is provocative and
sometimes disturbing in its honesty. Laguna Art Museum officials were
so struck by the collection that they displayed it last April and
May. The pieces were recently returned from its place at the Sawdust
Festival. To honor the memory of those lost on Sept. 11 and the
students’ work, Tiner created a book that he presented to the
Festival of Arts, a supporter of the visual arts program at the high
school and to the Laguna Art Museum.
“It was a great voice for the kids,” he said. “They felt they
could say something and people responded in kind.”
Erin deliberately chose fear and how it creates hatred and death
as the theme of her work. Her piece shows a monster bursting out of a
man whose limbs are severed and bleeding.
“I hoped when people looked at it they would be afraid of it,” she
said. “I hoped they’d be confused by it.”
She explained that the monster is a symbol of the evil in all
humans and how it is born out of fear.
“It’s coming out of him,” she said, pointing to the man with a
look of absolute fear distorting his face. “He’s the cause of his own
death because of his fear.”
Fellow classmates Sasha Kuznetsova and Jamie Andrews, both 17,
took a more personal approach with their pieces.
Sasha used her own experience growing up in Russia and hearing
about the wars in nearby Chechnya.
In the foreground of her piece there is a bedroom scene colored in
feminine tones with an empty bed and a portrait of a couple. Outside
the bedroom’s windows a fierce battle rages in black and white with
soldiers and approaching tanks.
“I had never been to New York and I did not know these buildings,”
she said. “But it reminded me of how I felt watching the news about
This summer she traveled with her family to Manhattan where they
made a special visit to ground zero.
“I saw where there was nothing and the other people there were sad
and angry,” she said. “It was awful knowing there were once buildings
With two friends in the military, Jamie endeavored to show how the
war on terrorism affects relationships between men and women. Her
pastel shows a soldier’s bare, scarred torso that is lovingly
caressed by the hand of his wife or girlfriend.
“The blackness is surrounding him,” she explained. "[Even though]
the wife can’t understand what he has been through, but she’s trying
to heal him from what he has seen and experienced.”
War is something that Jamie never thought she would experience on
a personal level in her lifetime. But watching it on TV and knowing
what her military friends are going through, she feels that what is
happening in Afghanistan is affecting everyone around her.
“I always heard about war from my grandparents and parents,” she
said. “An event like this bursts your bubble.”
But in spite of the attacks and the persistent fears of future
incidents, these three artists feel even stronger about the relevance
of art in today’s world.
“Art is a form of expression,” Erin said. “It will always be
important in any time period.”
* MARY A. CASTILLO is a news assistant for the Coastline Pilot.
She covers education, public safety and City Hall.