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Davis, California

Monday, May 27, 2024

Aggies after Davis: Two UCD alumni follow their passions

It’s no secret that UC Davis has a highly regarded art department and graduate program, but what does an MFA graduate do after graduation?

Well, if your name is Cynthia Horn, you continue to work and within a year find one of your most exciting pieces showcased in a renowned art exhibit in New York City.

While studying at UC Davis, Cynthia showed a remarkable aptitude for portrait painting.

“[I do] large scale paintings, like a narrative. I take people that I know and I have them come into the studio and model for me. They [paintings] are psychodramas. It’s fun to create these mini dramas about their lives,” Horn said of her work in a recent interview.

Completing the two-year MFA program may have been challenging, but Horn appreciates the process all the same.

“You’re so self-directed compared to doing your undergraduate degree. You’re really on your own, and do your work for yourself and take the criticism for it,” Horn said. “But they have a great faculty and it’s a great program, a small knit, close group. I’m really happy I did my MFA there.”

Horn not only discovered her unique style and expression during her years at UC Davis, but she also fully realized her passion for the creative process.

“I think the reason that I paint is because there’s something about creating something for yourself, I learn about myself when I’m painting,” Horn said. “It’s just something about that creative process, everyone has it and artists just feed off it. You put a lot of yourself into it.”

Because of her ability to interpret the human condition in this context, Horn ended up making her graduate thesis show off exactly this type of painting.

“I had fellow grad students model for me, my whole thesis show was based on them pretty much,” Horn explained. “I used friends and family, I do for all my work.”

Most of Horn’s pieces incorporate a specific theme, or mood. She explained that she likes to examine the darker aspects of things.

“They all have a similar theme going through all of them. There is a psychological complexity of my subjects,” Horn said. “My work has a dark side to it. I like to take that strange darkness that people have, it’s their hidden truth that maybe they don’t even know about themselves.”

Professor Annabeth Rosen, graduate advisor in the MFA program, who used to work with Horn, also recognized an emotional complexity in her work.

“As a painter she relies on personal diaristic images as a recording of daily life around her, real and imagined,” Rosen said in an e-mail interview. “She uses unheroic images of friends and a subtle and emotionally subdued color palette so that the paintings become a glimpse of the macro- and microcosm of the world as she perceives it.”

Horn’s paintings run anywhere from five by six feet to 10 by 10 feet canvases of dark, edgy subjects. With all that space, one would assume it would take some time to get it right.

“It just depends on your inspiration. I knocked that one [‘Absorbed’] out in five days, but I generally work on them from a few days to a month or so,” Horn said.

“Absorbed” is the piece that Phoenix Gallery selected to be showcased in New York. The national exhibit, entitled, “New Blood,” called for work from recently graduated graduate students from all over the country.

“We have never seen any of the work from these artists before, they are from graduate programs from all over the country,” said Joan Harmon, president of the Phoenix Gallery.

In a moment of dreams coming true, Horn was one of six of the selected contestants.

“There was an edginess to her work, a quality that is really intriguing,” Joan Harmon, president of the Phoenix Gallery, said. “It’s very personal, and gave us a window into her personal narrative – unique.”

For now, Horn continues to work in her studio in San Francisco and constantly applies for galleries and art shows all over the country. To future graduate students, she recommends the following:

“Once you’re done, keep working, and don’t lose that momentum you had. Make time for your studio practice, keep applying to shows and you will get in to something. It’s a challenging career choice.”

Despite the statistics, it seems as if Horn will have no problem getting work in her future.

Harmon said, “She has very strong work, I think she’s got a lot of potential.”

BRITTANY PEARLMAN can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

Switching majors is something most undergraduate students can easily
relate to, but many wouldn’t think of switching whole career fields.

After devoting the majority of his life to science, studying biology at
the University of California, San Diego and working on his doctorate in
ecology and evolution at Davis, biologist-turned- comedian Tim Lee
decided to leave the world of academia behind.

“It’s like
spending 60 years of your life training for the Olympics,” Lee said in
his comedy act, “and then deciding you wanted to be a glass blower.”

The comedian brings a unique aspect to his comedy routine; not only is
it scientifically driven and given in a manner of a college seminar but
he also heavily relies on the use of Microsoft PowerPoint slides to
drive his punch lines.

The obsession with PowerPoint started when
he was still a student at the university. As an undergraduate student
he loved when the professors threw gag slides into their lectures.

“It was a moment where my brain could relax and have fun in an otherwise monotonous seminar,” he said.

When Lee started giving talks in graduate school he decided to throw in
some silly slides in as well, and from there came the birth of
PowerPoint Comedy.

“Tim was an incredibly smart student,” said
Silvia Castillo Hillyer, student affairs officer for the graduate group
in ecology. “His dissertation had some really hard research. And even
when he decided to forgo the scientific field, his comedy routine still
uses the same type of science he was working on.”

But it wasn’t
until many years later that Lee would take the stage as a comedian. At
the time Lee was working on developing analytical models of organism
population dynamics. He says he was doing fine financially but was
really unhappy with what he was doing professionally. He went to an open
mic night at a Laundromat in San Francisco. His success solidified his
leaving the world of academia.

“It wasn’t a surprise for me,”
said Eric Rosenthal, who met Lee in a martial arts class when they were
both students at Davis. “He is a smart ass guy who always said witty
things that made people laugh. He started doing comedy gradually, and he
keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

Lee has accumulated over three
million views on YouTube and is currently performing in Southern
California and will be touring through the Pacific Northwest.

write comedy that is funny to me then take that comedy in front of an
audience,” said Lee. “If they think it’s funny, I keep it. If they
don’t, I scrap it. I never remove stuff from my act because I think it’s
beyond the audience’s capabilities. I’ve performed for all kinds of

The audiences that come to his shows are ready for
comedy that is edgy and funny. He uses scientific phenomena and tools to
explain every day experiences like the collection of hair on bar soap
and busting drug dealers.

“His comedy appeals to people who are
a little bit science related, nerdy and like to think about things.”
Rosenthal said, “It’s perfect for college students. It’s a parody of a
lot of lectures and boring seminars.”

To find out more about the
nerdy comedy of Tim Lee check out his website at youtubecomedian.com or
find him on YouTube or Twitter.

ANASTASIA ZHURAVLEVA can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.


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