“It is a substance that surpasses the senses,” student Katy Betz wrote in her sketchbook.
Whether it was in egg tempera, low relief or charcoal, all of her fellow Laguna College of Art & Design students concurred by creating works of art to honor the masterworks they experienced during a Summer Abroad trip to Europe.
Their culminating show at the college, “The Romance of Prague and the Glory of Vienna,” is a jewel. It runs through Jan. 27, with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. on Jan. 26.
The works in the show include formal landscapes and cityscapes, lyrical representations of personal growth and several pieces in the style of the artists viewed in Europe — Mucha, Rubens, Klimt.
“The whole thing was such a unique experience,” student Colleen Police said. “To go with a bunch of people who are just as passionate about art as anyone I know — people were just as happy to go out to a museum as they were to spend the night on the town.”
Longtime tour coordinator and LCAD presence Betty Shelton required all the students to keep sketchbooks of their work. Upon their return, many of the students reflected on what they saw and felt through art.
Shelton has taught art history and fine art; she has also held most of the college’s titles, including professor and dean.
Co-organizer Bill Havlicek is a historian with an MFA — a unique combination, Shelton said, that affords a rare chance to learn about both the artists’ historical ways of life and artistic techniques.
“This school is a figurative school, so you notice a lot of using the human figure to represent experiences,” Shelton said.
Colleen Police’s “Hope” is a large figural piece that Shelton describes as “a blend of the secular and the profane.”
“I did it in a way I’ve never done a painting before,” Police said. She added that the piece was inspired in subject by Mucha and in technique by Klimt.
“A favorite part of the trip was going to the museum where we got to see Klimt, and the highlight for me was the Mucha museum in Prague — he’s one of my absolute, all-time inspirations,” Police said.
Police transferred to LCAD from Pasadena City College as a sophomore when she decided to pursue art full-time; she comes from a family of artists.
Betz’s self-portrait beside it, “Inspiration,” depicts herself walking in the Prague Cathedral, in silhouetted awe. The vibrant colors of the stained glass windows that frame her are reflected on the floor.
Many of the students in this year’s show had also attended previous trips in Belgium and Holland, or Florence and Rome.
“It was a really well-rounded trip,” Police said. “We felt a lot of different feelings depending on which museum we went to that day. There were lots of different thought processes and emotions; it was really introspective.”
In addition to Prague and Vienna, the students spent a day and night in Salzburg, Shelton said.
Several students chose to paint traditional landscapes while they were there.
Betz painted a charming fairy-tale take on the town, featuring hills that were alive with the sound of music and a silhouette of Mozart in the clouds. The piece is very reminiscent of the mural she created at the soon-to-open Nix Nature Center.
Many of the pieces in the show are created by returning students from other countries like Turkey, Russia and Yugoslavia. These mature students had worked in other careers, but each made a decision to follow their true passion, often undiscovered until later in life, Shelton said.
Returning student Eddie Brisco brought in his technical abilities from his prior engineering career with a spot-on sketch of bridges in Prague.
The diversity of the students, as well as shared experiences, made for a unusually pooled sentiment on the trip.
“It made everyone a little more aware, a little more open and accepting,” Shelton said.
The trip was especially poignant for Havlicek, Shelton said. As the group was traveling from Salzburg to Prague, Havlicek received notice that his mother had died.
Havlicek is of Czech heritage, so the group’s imminent arrival in Prague was made all the more emotional for him.
He chose to paint his impression of a carving at St. George’s Basilica depicting the classic scene of St. George slaying the dragon, which may have been a cathartic experience for him, Shelton said.
Another artist, student Latife Warshawsky of Turkey, is Jewish. She created a moving piece representing a memorial statue at the Gate of Violence in Vienna. In the sculpture, an old man is sprawled on the street with a brush, barbed wire affixed to his back.
Jewish residents of Prague were required to clean the streets of slogans and other graffiti during the Third Reich.
“The way I look at things changed from the trip,” Police said. “I learned to determine not just how a painting makes me feel, but why.”