The Ursuline Academy was first established in 1851 with seven Catholic nuns. It operated as a girls’ school for more than a century before the sisters moved on and the property fell into disrepair. Heroines of San Antonio – women like Emily Edwards, Edith McAllister and the legion of volunteer visionaries who aided their efforts – pulled the abandoned academy out of the ruins and made it an art school. It has been known by several different names over the decades, but today it is known as the Southwest School of Art. It is not an idle observation that this institution has always been defined by the vision of strong women.
Paula Owen has served as president of this fine San Antonio institution since 1996 and is proudly leading staff and students into the 21st century. Southwest School of Art (SSA) celebrates their 50th anniversary with a landmark exhibition, “Selfies: 50 at 50.” The opening benefit preview, “Savor The Arts,” was a hit with all in attendance and the show itself is a revealing look at those teachers and mentors – men and women – who have influenced the path of the school in recent years. This exhibition will be on display at the Russell Hill Rogers Galleries on the Navarro Campus, May 8 – July 5, 2015.
All artists participating in this exhibition were invited to create a self-portrait – a “selfie” if you must – to commemorate this significant milestone. In addition, community artists are encouraged to submit a selfie via hashtag #todosSSA to be uploaded to a digital display at the Navarro Campus. Or, one may visit the Navarro Campus galleries to create their own self-portrait to be added to a special exhibition wall. The prevalent theme seems to be that it takes a village.
SSA has enjoyed a robust professional reputation for many years, even predating the current administration’s drive toward accreditation and acknowledgement in the contemporary art community. We also surmise that the early dogmatic dedication to the art of fine craft created a solid working foundation supporting the multi-disciplinary strength that defines this institution today.
For 19 years, with strong backing from the board of directors, Paula Owen and her staff have managed to guide this community school into the higher academic headwaters without jeopardizing the artistic aesthetic and freedom of experimentation that puts SSA into the running with some of the best art schools that this country has to offer. The school is still early in their accreditation vetting process, but the staff of SSA must be commended for their dedication and unfailing standards.
This exhibition is interesting on a number of levels. Self portraiture is such an intimate process. Add to that the variations of media in which each artist specializes, or how they choose to execute the assignment. It is fascinating to work one’s way through the exhibit. Given that San Antonio is a “big city, small town” – and y’all know what I mean – there are many faces that are known. This reality makes the ultimate honesty of the show absolutely titillating. The pure quality of execution, technique and vision are exemplary.
One example of this purity is Joey Fauerso’s “Ninja.” The first challenge is to devote 8:25 minutes of your life to paying attention to this video installation. To accept the challenge is to be rewarded. To first watch Fauerso execute her self-portrait with a nice, fat, medium Sharpie, and then marvel and speculate at the meaning of small hands taking over the narrative was quite spell-binding. But then, remember, you must be open to that experience to fully appreciate it.
But, wait, there’s also Diana Kersey’s “Selfie Burial Urn,” or Denis Olsen’s poignant “Cicatrice,” or – each and every piece makes a difference. That says it all. Each artist accepted the challenge of the self-portrait and pushed their limits to deliver a work with meaning. There was no phoning it in, nothing haphazard or simple about this collection of selfies. This collection transcends the trends of our times.
Southwest School of Art is located at 300 Augusta, across from the San Antonio Public Library. The Russell Hill Rogers Galleries at the Navarro Campus are open seven days a week. Monday – Saturday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. For more information about exhibitions and classes, visit the Southwest School of Art website or call 210-224-1848.
*Featured/top image: “Selfies: 50 at 50” – Anniversary exhibition Southwest School of Art. Photo by Page Graham.