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Monday, October 25, 2021

Art studio students grapple with pressures and passions of artistic calling

Does the inspiration behind a “starving artist” stem from madness or necessity? The pursuit of life in the art world often provokes many uncertainties and responses. But with each pursuit, there’s a journey and incredible story to tell.

Katherine Nulicek and Erika Romero, who sit side-by-side painting on a recent bright, sunny morning in their elective studio, have a lot to be happy about. Nulicek and Romero have just completed their first of three faculty reviews required by the art studio graduate program which removes their conditional status for the next 10 months. Despite their calm disposition, things weren’t always this way.

Romero moved to the United States in 1994 from Guadalajara, Mexico and did her undergraduate studies at a community college in San Antonio, Tex. However, the transition from Texas to California has had a big effect on her perception of the art world.

“It’s about struggling,” said Romero. “Being in a place where you don’t know anybody, it makes you realize more about yourself. I usually do figures but recently I’m doing a lot of abstract paintings that are really gestural. So maybe it’s a reflection of my current struggles – something that I’m discovering that is new about breaking barriers in these new aspects of my life.

Although Romero was exposed to art at an early stage, it wasn’t until relatively recently that she discovered she wanted to pursue it as a career.

“I remember when I was 16, and my brother was 17 and I would watch him render figures so well,” said Romero. “We would just sit down and talk about art. I just knew I wanted to be some type of artist. I could be a musician, or a singer – I didn’t know I was able to paint until later in life. I went through a hard episode in my life that had me in rehab. They encouraged me to do art classes so I could concentrate better. That’s when I realized I definitely had a passion for it.”

Like Romero, Katherine Nulicek changed her scene and environment drastically to be here in the program. Moving from a little rural town outside of Chicago, Nulicek chose the UCD graduate program based upon the hands-on studio work it has to offer.

“I wanted to get out of the Midwest,” Nulicek said. “It’s important because it gives you perspective to get out of your hometown and experience a whole new environment altogether. The energy is really different here. I know this is sort of an abstract idea but it’s just a different energy.”

Nulicek believes that art is a vital element of what keeps our world going – despite common misconceptions regarding the argument around pursuing vocation versus passion.

“I think the world needs artists,” Nulicek said. “I think it’s sort of a precarious situation to get yourself into financially. You probably heard the term “starving artist.” But I think art is a necessity for human beings and it’s been for a long time. Money will work itself out and a job will work itself out, you just have to follow a path with heart.”

Aside from her general passion for the arts, the urban landscape and natural surroundings contribute greatly to her artwork and creations.

“My major inspirations come from the different environments,” Nulicek said. “The urban environment is an inspiration to me as well as a rural environment. Nature always plays a big role [in] life. The energy it has and how it funnels into the work. It’s sort of ultimate work.”

Both Romero and Nulicek’s medium of choice is oil and acrylic on large canvases. However, they both continue to explore and grasp all the different aspects the program has to offer in a hands-on and practicable approach.

“What’s important for us is the focus on work in the studio,” says Hearne Pardee, art department chair. “We work on keeping the boundaries open – no one is defined as a ‘painter,’ even though that may be their major focus, but rather encouraged to look at their work from a variety of perspectives. The emphasis is not on theorizing or concepts until after the student is engaged in their process of making things.”

UYEN CAO can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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