Painting a future with women in art

Women throughout the school district shared their art and perspective lifestyles

Sharon Virtue showing a couple of paints from her series titled “I have a Dream” inspired by Martin Luther King speeach.

Today’s women in art from Evergreen Valley College and San Jose City College are breaking the status quo by elevating the art world with their creative visions as expressed through their life experiences, inspirations and work in activism.

Female artists came together on-campus at SJCC in March to celebrate Women’s History Month by showcasing personal pieces in the form of watercolor, sculptures and paintings, to name a few.

Each creation featured at the gallery event “Plus One” was connected to an inner-perspective as expressed by the artists, which included professors, students and other artists from the Bay Area.

Sharon Virtue, a San Francisco-based artist and activist originally from London, focuses her creative vision on building community and helping others. Her colorful style was on display at SJCC in the form of paintings of women that highlight positivity, joy and resilience in the face of adversity.

Her series, “I Have a Dream”, is composed of 11 canvases and each one is named from a fragment of the speech by Dr. Martin Luther King’s Jr. On display at SJCC were two of her pieces.

Inspiration to create these pieces came after the Black Lives Matter movement with the intention of raising their voices, Virtue said.

“I want to express the beauty of being an artist in that we get to give voices to things without actually saying the things,” she said.

Mia Solis Batista was observing Virtue’s art and said she found that it was a novel approach to using the well-known speech in a reimagined way.

“That was also really interesting because it was her kind of deconstructing this really powerful speech and giving it kind of a face to each line,” said Batista, a studio art and ethnic studies student at SJCC.

Virtue gravitates towards representing women in her pieces, believing women are powerful and able to affect change, she said. Although her pieces usually feature somber and pressing social justice issues, she expressed that she doesn’t want her viewers to solely focus on the past horrors or trauma. Instead, she wants them to focus on moving forward with strength and power.

“My work is about joy, and it’s about inspiration, hope, aspiration and resilience,” Virtue said. “Those are the emotions and the feelings that I’m trying to convey in my work.”

How Art is Used to Tackle Social Justice

Professor Kelly Bornhoft, gave voice to issues that impact society central to her work. In the same vein as Virtue when it comes to topics of social justice, Bornhoft uses art to raise awareness about climate change.
Bornhoft said she never imagined that she could become an artist.

She was always a teacher, but as art became a more integral part of her life she said the community supported her through connecting her to scholarships and art-focused universities.

In recent works, Bornhoft intersects the topics of climate change and her own pregnancy experience. She said the relationship between pregnancy and the Earth was very similar in her eyes, pointing to how earthquakes are measured through waves.

Bornhoft continued the connection by explaining that mothers send waves in the form of sonograms, and the tremors symbolized touch and a baby kicking.

“A baby’s really used to a lot of movement. I envision and then imagine that the inside of the Earth has been an active place and the Earth is always moving and shaking,” said Bohnhoft.

How Art Changed My Life

Stephanie Robison said she also believes she was meant to share the power of art with others.
“Deep down inside, I knew that I was gonna be involved in sculpture,” said Robison, a professional sculptor at San Francisco City College.

To Robison, sculpting is more than just a hobby, it’s a part of her life, she said. From a young age, Robison has dedicated her free time to studying sculpture and perfecting the different techniques.

Robison said she now spends her days teaching students about the different aspects of sculpting while simultaneously perfecting her own work. Her free time is dedicated to fueling her own love of art, she said.

“Sometimes I’ll have a clear plan [with my art] and other times I just kind of go and play,” Robinson said.

She believes that it takes hard work, dedication and a burning passion to be successful in the art world.

Robinson’s sculptures are often inspired by the unpredictable and chaotic elements in nature, which she captures in art by using a wide range of materials including stone, metal and clay. More recently, she’s been experimenting with wool to create unique looking organic sculptures.

Working with wool is a very delicate process, she said, which requires learning a new technique that no sculptor ever thought about learning before – felting.

Stone carving, on the other hand, is a very labor intensive process that takes patience as well as years of experience to master, Robinson said.

“I think a lot of women are involved in the art world. It’s just whether or not institutions are paying attention,” she said.

Robinson said she hopes her art has the power to make a bigger impact on society and that it will guide future generations of artists to explore their creativity and express themselves through their work.

A Creative Spirit Different Techniques

“Trust yourself and never compare” is the advice offered to future artists by known realist painter and art professor at Evergreen Valley College, Lei Chi. Through her portfolio, which has been displayed on exhibit internationally, Chi said she aims to capture the human spirit of each one of her pieces.

Chi utilizes delicate and intentional watercolor strokes to emphasize even the smallest details in her work. She finds her inspiration in architectural art and animal figures.

Another passion of hers is the classroom, where she teaches budding creators how to appreciate different styles of art, from drawing to two-dimensional design. It was in that setting where Chi met Jacklyne Azevedo, also a watercolor painter, who recently graduated in graphic design from San Jose State University.

Both artists showed their pieces for over a month in the gallery at SJCC.

Azevedo said her love for drawing began from a very young age.

Growing up she struggled with spelling, so Azevedo said she used the watercolor strokes as a tool of expression.

Her paintings today still portray the intimate world around her, and mainly features moments from her trips with friends and family.

The series of three portraits featured at SJCC created by Azevedo were inspired by her last trip to a beach in Mexico. For Azevedo, it was important to show her friends how beautiful they are through her eyes.

“They didn’t feel beautiful, and they want to change a lot of things about themselves, but I wanted to show them that they don’t need to,” Azevedo said.