San Diego Art Department spawns art, community and more
Morgan M. Hurley | GSD Editor
Five years ago, a small group of local artists inadvertently created a community among themselves while honing their artistic skills at the San Diego Art Department (SDAD). Since then, they formalized their existence, established a weekly meet-up, and began to show their work at solo shows and larger exhibits around the county.
The group recently published a book highlighting many of the artists and three of their best works, most of which originated through class participation at SDAD.
Titled simply, “Ray Street Artists,” the 78-page, glossy, 8- by 8-inch soft cover book quietly hit the shelves near the end of 2013, but its contributors are now gearing up for an exhibition that will mark its official launch.
“Art in the Garden” will take place Saturday, March 1 and consist solely of work found in the “Ray Street Artists” book. Lisa Tear, one of the many artists profiled therein, is opening up the idyllic outdoor garden patio of her La Jolla home for the four-hour exhibition.
“[Tear’s] home has always been owned by an artist,” said Mission Hills resident Ari Kate Ashton, the group’s founding member and mentor.
Ashton — who has been an instructor at SDAD for six years — said she decided to assemble the group in 2008 after recognizing the talent had “moved well past being students,” and named them after the North Park art school’s address.
As the educational arm of the non-profit San Diego Art Institute headquartered in Balboa Park, the SDAD currently hosts 19 different instructors and supports dozens of classes for all ages on various art subjects, from introductory classes on watercolor and drawing, to stained glass and basket weaving and everything else in between.
“We have a large number of LGBT students at SDAD,” said Ashton, adding that she is a member of the community herself. “What I’ve learned is that artists have kind of been on the fringe of society for centuries, so they are very inclusive of any minority.”
According to SDAD’s website, their mission is “to establish itself as a sacred place that encourages the creativity of artists of all ages and stimulates the ongoing flow of ideas and expression.”
Ashton said she assists her students in first establishing themselves as artists and then taking their art beyond the studio, something she calls “art to market.”
“I teach them to find their visual voice and develop a body of work that they can then sell,” Ashton said.
She said her “Developing the Artist” is one of the only classes of its kind as many often frown upon teaching the semantics of marketing an artist’s work, but Ashton feels it is an important step in any artist’s career.
“Some disagree with me, but what’s the point of making art if it never leaves the studio?” she said.
Patric Stillman, one of the artists profiled in the book, agrees.
“So many young artists are rooted in an esoteric mindset — a bohemian lifestyle creating art that is not meant for everyone,” he said. “In contrast, I find Ray Street Artists as a whole are more interested in connecting with and sharing their messages with the public.”
Stillman took first place last year at the Art of Pride exhibit during San Diego Pride’s festival. His piece, entitled “Cut Sleeve V,” is a recurring image in his work and his award earned Stillman more than a ribbon and cash prize.
“[It] was a wonderful recognition of my creativity, but privately, it made me proud as it also held significant relevance to my gay spirit,” he said, adding that the term “cut sleeve” comes from an ancient Chinese story and is still used to refer to homosexual men today.
“Personally, this story means a lot to me because when I was a teen living in the farmlands of Minnesota, I came across it and it was perhaps the first time that I understood that I was not alone in my feelings and that being gay didn’t have to be this shameful thing that the world was telling me,” Stillman said.
The Ray Street Artists group is comprised of 25 members but only 18 were included in the book, a decision Ashton said was based on the quantity of work they have accomplished. Ashton and Lesley Anderson, the current education director at SDAD, reviewed dozens of pieces put forth for inclusion and chose the artwork that best represented each selected artist’s work. The art that made the cut runs the gamut of mediums, and makes use of acrylics, oils, metal, wood, and mixed media. Along with the three pieces chosen, an extensive bio for each artist accompanies their work, and both Ashton and Anderson have work in the book as well.
Though members of the Ray Street Artists group often participate in Ray at Night, North Park’s monthly art event, none of them own studios on the actual street and many even travel from as far away as Poway and Carlsbad to attend their weekly classes or meet ups at SDAD.
Aside from their recent shared interest in the book’s publication, the Ray Street Artists have become a tight-knit group over the last five years. They meet weekly to paint, critique each other’s work, discuss ways to further develop their portfolios, and to generally support one another’s artistic endeavors.
“As an artist, you never know where you’ll find that spark of innovation, and for me and this crew, we often provide that to each other,” Stillman said.
“Art in the Garden” will take place on March 1, from 1 – 5 p.m. at 6112 Waverly Ave. in La Jolla. Wine and appetizers will be served, the “Ray Street Artists” book will be available for purchase for $27.95, and music by local musician Mike McGill will be provided. Admission is to the event is free.
For more information about the exhibition or the Ray Street Artists’ group, visit their website at raystreetartists.com or find them on Facebook. You can also learn more about art classes and in house exhibits at sandiegoartdepartment.com.