.Home Is Where the Art Is

Exploring ‘home’ at Richmond Art Center

The concept of “home” is baked into human DNA. “There’s no place like home,” says Dorothy as she clicks her heels to return to Kansas. But, wrote seminal American writer Thomas Wolfe, “You Can’t Go Home Again.”

Home can be a safe, comforting place—but for some, it’s a place of anger and insecurity, and for others, “the homeless,” it doesn’t exist at all.

All these ideas of home and more are explored in the exhibition at the Richmond Art Center through June 15. “Home Show” features the work of six RAC teaching artists—Eli Africa, Ned Axthelm, Colleen Garland, Julia LaChica, Travis Meinolf and Kristin Satzman—who work in many media, from printmaking to ceramics, to jewelry to video.

RAC Community Engagement Director Amy Spencer both envisioned the idea for “Home Show” and curated it. She did so with two goals, she said: To curate a theme that people have in common, and to highlight the work of the teaching artists at RAC. “Everyone was happy to participate. It’s always exciting to find a way to work differently with them,” she said.

Spencer noted that the pandemic elicited mixed feelings about home for many. While home was a safe space and a retreat from a frightening unknown, it also felt confining and isolating. “You can see that in [one of] Ned Axthem’s paintings, created during the pandemic,” she said. “It’s hyper-focused on this space … comfortable but confined.”

Julia LaChica’s pieces in “Home Show” address home as both a place to be venerated and as an ideal that isn’t realized for many. Her/their Home Altar (Ode to Monica) celebrates her/their Japanese/Filipino ancestry, with items collected over 20 years from those places, and also including an old clock assembly with a note honoring a housing activist friend who died.

LaChica, an Oakland resident, has been a teaching artist at RAC for a year, instructing classes in both screen and block printing. She/they has watched and spoken with gallery visitors while they look at Home Altar. “Someone said, ‘Standing in front of this is very calming,’” she/they said.

But LaChica’s three works in the exhibition deal with her/their own experiences as a child of divorce, moving from one home to another. Court Ordered depicts a family portrait layered over a court-ordered custody document. LaChica and her/their siblings were, for some time, bounced between her/their mother’s and father’s apartments, with neither feeling like a true home.

In another work, Home, some of the effects of this are seen. LaChica’s mother did not speak English well, and felt she had to leave her three young children home alone as she went out to work. LaChica’s five-year-old brother accidentally set the apartment on fire. At that point, “Child Protective Services stepped in, and we moved into public housing in [San Francisco’s] Chinatown,” she/they said.

Yet the third piece, Permanent Resident, is an homage to her/their mother, using her old Japanese passport, and reimagining her/their 4-foot-11-inch-tall mother as a samurai with a sword. Under “occupation” on the passport,  LaChica wrote: “Badass hell-raiser.” Under “visual identification marks,” she/they inserted: “Back straight,” “Youthfully beautiful” and “Singing Japanese love songs.”

LaChica is inspired by the theme of home, and plans to continue creating a “broader exhibit [focusing on] the displacement of people. This project will affirm that all people deserve a place to rest. I want people to think about that,” she/they said.

Displacement is also addressed in Eli Africa’s animated video, The Story of Frai, a tribute to immigrant workers deciding to leave their home in the Philippines to make a better life for their children.

Richmond resident Colleen Garland has taught ceramics at RAC since 2019. With more than 10 pieces in “Home Show,” she considers her contributions to be, in part, a tribute to her own ceramics teacher at Contra Costa College, Mary Law. “I continue to fire with her,” she said.

The show’s theme literally hit home for Garland. “I make pots to be used,” she said. But some of her work in the show is sculptural, including a “chipmunk house,” complete with log and mushrooms, created at the request of a friend, and dioramas of interior scenes. In Soda Kiln (Pot House), “I replicated the inside of Mary Law’s kiln. It’s a home for pots,” she said.

One project she attempted to make specifically for “Home Show” proved unsuccessful. “We had a month’s turnaround to prepare for the show, and I tried to make a self-portrait,” she said. But she didn’t let the clay dry long enough—and it exploded in the kiln. She’s philosophical about it, noting that working with clay, glaze and heat is always full of variables, which is one of the reasons the work that survives and is beautiful should be valued.

Garland would like visitors to “Home Show” to feel “that each artist has brought in a piece of [their own] home.” She also urges viewers to imagine how pieces interact with each other, like her pots being used in Travis Meinolf’s Small Shelter.

“Look really closely [at the art],” she said. “How was it made? Travis’ woven house took hours of work.”

Amy Spencer discussed yet another aspect of the show: That it’s a home for the multiple teaching artists featured in it, as well as for the many students from all over the East Bay who take classes with them. RAC offers classes for adults, kids, youth and families, including some bilingual offerings.

Art Boost! scholarships are available for some who cannot afford class fees. This summer, adult classes run the gamut from “Urban Nature Journaling” to “Japanese Brush Painting and Calligraphy.” A summer art camp for kids, and free summer art classes for youth, are also offered.

“The Richmond Art Center has been here for more than 80 years, but there are still people who haven’t discovered us yet,” Spencer said.

“We are doing special things here,” Garland added.

Upcoming: “Richmond Open Studios Preview,” an exhibition showcasing art by artists participating in Richmond Open Studios; July 3–Aug. 17.

Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Ave., Richmond. Gallery hours: Wed-Sat, 10am to 4pm. 510.620.6772. richmondartcenter.org

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