A. Garcia’s artistic journey at Illinois State had no shortage of twists and turns along the way. From changing their study focus to overcoming setbacks and self-doubt, they emerged victorious—ending their college career with the Wonsook Kim School of Art’s top award and a refined sense of career direction.

In early May, Garcia received the Marshall Dulaney Pitcher Award as part of this year’s Student Annual. The Marshall Dulaney Pitcher Award is given to an outstanding student in the Wonsook Kim School of Art who demonstrates exceptional artistic talent, dedicated studio practice, and academic excellence.

“I felt so honored when I got the award,” said Garcia. “It was something that I always thought was a little bit unreachable.”

Garcia graduated in May with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. They originally majored in art education, but switched to painting. This year was not Garcia’s first attempt at entering the exhibition. In 2017, Garcia’s first year at Illinois State, they entered their work into the Student Annual.

“I didn’t even make it into the Student Annual,” said Garcia. “I didn’t get a piece in, and I was super bummed and down on myself about that.”

Despite the setback, they refocused and bounced back the next year, making it into the 2018 Student Annual exhibition. “I really look up to all of the artists in the community around me,” said Garcia. “They really inspire me. Everyone who surrounds me, their work is so incredible.”

Garcia took that inspiration from their peers and channeled it into their own work. Additionally, Garcia was mentored by Melissa Oresky and Andreas Fischer, associate professors in Illinois State’s painting program. “They were incredibly helpful throughout my time at ISU,” said Garcia.

Artwork by Arianna Garcia

A. Garcia (2020 Marshall Dulaney Pitcher Award winner). Left: Loosen Up My Buttons, 2019. Acrylic, cyanotype, grass clippings, and paper towel on panel. 15 x 20 inches. Right: Clippings, 2019. Acrylic, ink, pastel, and AstroTurf on canvas. 33 x 43.5 inches. Both works courtesy of the artist.

For their award-winning project, Garcia investigated the symbolism of the American lawn and its relation to society. “I was looking for comparative injustices within that space,” said Garcia.

On their website, Garcia provided a synopsis of the project’s aim: “In America, our front yards take up so much of our energy and resources without their prerogatives ever being interrogated or contemplated. For instance, many of us welcome the lawn with open arms, adorning it with the latest accessories and hairstyles; always keeping it hydrated. On the other hand, some of us neglect or reject this terrain, offering it a new, more political dynamic. These personal choices and their multi-layered effects allow us to envision the lawn as a microcosm of contemporary ecological discourse. Meaning, if we investigate the complex relationship Americans have with their lawns, we will find that these intricacies and issues can be discovered at a much larger scale in contemporary society.”

Garcia had originally intended on using the project for their Bachelor of Fine Arts solo show, but the circumstances brought on by coronavirus (COVID-19) required them to reinvent.

“My BFA solo show was kind of thrown into the air, so all the work that I had made for it was not going to be able to be shown in a physical gallery,” said Garcia. “I decided to use the work for the Marshall Dulaney Pitcher Award instead because I had already photographed it and I still wanted to participate in the Student Annual.”

Even in the face of abrupt change, Garcia managed to succeed. “It had to be a little bit different this year because it was an online exhibition, but overall, I’m simply grateful for the opportunity,” said Garcia. “It’s still hard to put into words.”

Throughout their time at Illinois State, Garcia worked at University Galleries as a gallery assistant. They helped install exhibitions, greeted patrons, and assisted the staff as needed. “I’ve learned so much by being there,” said Garcia. “Working at University Galleries has really changed and shaped my idea of what I would like to pursue in the future. I’ve been exposed to so many different career paths by working there, which has been amazing.”

“It has been a joy to work with A. for the past year and a half,” said Kendra Paitz, director and chief curator at University Galleries. “Although 2020 has presented everyone with challenges, A. has excelled on multiple fronts.”

As a new graduate, Garcia has their sights set on working in a gallery. “I’d like to work in some sort of gallery or museum and be a part of a community of artists,” said Garcia. “I’d like to assist with bringing in artists from around the world and be surrounded by individuals fighting for social justice through their work and ways of living.”

Further down the road, Garcia plans on returning to school to receive a Master of Fine Arts in painting. With that degree, Garcia would like to teach painting at the college level.

“I definitely feel like I’ve had a fulfilling experience here,” said Garcia, who came to Illinois State from Braidwood. “I say all the time that I think coming here was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve been able to meet so many extraordinary people and find a community.”

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