On a TV screen near the entrance to The Arts Fund Gallery (205-C Santa Barbara St.), a short video documents the 2011 Teen Arts Mentorship program. “What have you learned?” asks the woman behind the camera. “I’ve learned that it’s not just about the outcome,” replies one girl, brushing her long blonde hair out of her eyes. “It’s about the process.”
Since 1994, the Teen Arts Mentorship has given talented high school-aged artists the opportunity to spend 10 weeks learning from masters in their field. This year’s culminating exhibit gives a sense of the program’s breadth: Students worked in black-and-white photography (with Nell Campbell), bronze casting (with Nevin Littlehale), contemporary painting (with Rafael Perea de la Cabada), and mixed-media assemblage (with Ron Robertson).
In each of these art forms, the creation of a finished work is a multistage process, requiring patience and dedication. That focus is evident across the genres. In painting, Vittoria Claire Cutbirth conjures the entire cosmos on a tiny canvas: a dark sky studded with distant stars, the blue-black arm of a spiral galaxy slashing past. In a twist on the art-historical tradition of male artists depicting female nudes, photographer Teka Gabaldon turns her lens on the male body in various states of adornment; one subject wears plugs in his pierced earlobes, another holds his shirt open to expose a tattoo that reads “redeemed” on his pale chest.
Between bronze casting and assemblage, three-dimensional objects abound in this year’s show. Jos Gradstein’s “Predator” is made from foam core, with glue and sand for texture and a bronze patina finish. It looks like something out of Nemo’s nightmares: a skeletal piranha with a mouth built for evisceration and an antenna culminating in a red light bulb. In bronze, Aaron Roberts’s wonderfully grotesque humanoid figure stands on three legs, its long arms ending in massive hands like boxing gloves. It hangs its head as if dejected. Nearby, a vertical wooden pole features a series of platforms where hollow-eyed bronze creatures stand in small groups. Jean-Dwight Ledbetter’s pudgy figures could almost be related to the Pillsbury Doughboy, but the horns on their heads seem to indicate status; the bottom-dwellers are bald, and the guy at the top has sprouted so many protrusions he looks ready to topple.
While this year’s works show an impressive level of sophistication, the real triumph of the program isn’t displayed in the gallery. It’s the exposure to professional studios and artists, the permission to experiment, and the process of creation that these young people will carry with them long after this show comes down.