For nearly two decades, Alex Kritselis has led Pasadena City College through some bold artistic advances. As the dean of its Visual Arts and Media Studies department, Kritselis has helped the local two-year institution gain an international reputation — largely by overseeing its Artist-in-Residence program.
Suzanne Bravender, who is now a PCC professor emeritus, came up with the idea for the program more than 20 years ago. She thought that artists in residence would inspire and enlighten PCC students while enriching the community with exhibitions of their work in the campus art gallery.
Now, after many years of combining dreams with hard work, the effort has paid off as PCC officially celebrates the program with an elaborate, long-term installation located throughout the campus’ Shatford Library. Students and visitors alike can wander the library’s halls and take in the wonders of unique works by the likes of photographer William Wegman, conceptual designer and futurist Syd Mead and pop artist Alexis Smith.
“Basically the faculty get together and decide who to invite to spend a week here, teaching and speaking with students, offering workshops and attending receptions while engaging in a special project that they complete while here,” explains Kritselis. “We set the terms of the offer, which is reasonable but modest, but the artists are usually willing to take part, especially as our program has become better and better known. It’s a festival of art using the work of an artist and his or her expertise first to bring students close, and then the community into the ideas that motivate an artist.”
The library exhibition is just one example of the many ways that PCC has been commemorating the program this year. On June 1, the college released an elaborate catalog titled “Twenty Years of Artists in Residence at Pasadena City College,” which illustrated and explained each of the 28 works in the collection thus far. (There are more than 20 works because some artists contributed more than one artwork.)
In addition, PCC had the foresight to videotape every residency and is about to release a DVD that incorporates the highlights of each one in the 20-year-old program. The DVD will broaden awareness of the program to libraries and art museums nationwide, while Kritselis also notes that it will be available at no charge to interested individual art lovers as well.
“The program over the years has become more inclusive and more diverse, and it has represented art from every field, from traditional painting and sculpture to printmaking and photography, video and performance art,” says Kritselis. “We’ve tried to cover as much ground as possible with the program, but in turn it has broadened our menu of course offerings and helped draw people from all over the world to PCC.”
Indeed, the exhibition’s colorful catalog offers a glimpse of intriguing photo collages Wegman produced during his 1994 stay, which in depicting groups of students and shadows of hands represented a sharp turn away from the photos of dogs he’s become famous for focusing on. Another starkly interesting work came from Jack Zajac, who donated his bronze sculpture titled “Bound Goat, Thursday” to the college, where its depiction of a distressed animal offers a powerful addition to the school’s Boone Sculpture Garden.
Perhaps the most stunning work donated to PCC came from Peter Milton in 1999. A specialist in creating highly detailed black and white etchings and engravings that reveal hidden layers of meaning the closer a person looks at them, Milton donated his “Points of Departure II: Nijinsky Variations,” leaving the school with a haunting artwork featuring images of famous artists in varying states of ghostliness.
“Wegman did his donated work while he was here, but others bring their piece as part of an exhibition. They select one to donate or we do,” explains Kritselis, a native of Greece who taught at institutions including the Southwest Texas University, Pomona College and Cal State Northridge before coming to PCC in 1987.
Kritselis feels this program has helped build PCC’s reputation for exceptional art: “It’s quite a remarkable place that serves the community in a great way.”
The exhibition “Twenty Years of Artists in Residence at Pasadena City College” is on display indefinitely at the Shatford Library, Pasadena City College, 1570 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (626) 585-7123.