Last September I taught a figure drawing class for teenagers through LACMA’s Education Department. On the first day of the session, I perused my roll sheet and was delighted to see some familiar names. On the roster were three teens that have been taking art classes at LACMA since they were little kids. One teen in particular, Andy, I met when he was three years of age, and his sister Matisse was only a baby. I wanted to see how they thought making art and growing up around the art collections at LACMA affected their lives.
When Andy grows up he wants to be an architect. Matisse will always be an artist. At ages 14 and 12, respectively, this brother and sister grew up visiting LACMA on a regular basis, taking art classes, and delighting in the art on display. In the studio, Andy was a quiet and focused artist who paid incredible attention to detail. One time he made a sketch from memory of a gallery of animal vessels from Mexico. He drew the artworks in their display cases and all the light sources in the gallery. He was about five years old. Matisse was a happy, excitable artist who took delight in mixing a color or layering one material over another.
I recently spent the afternoon with them, looking at their artwork and talking about their experiences at LACMA. Both kids vividly remember their weekend ritual of going to their morning art class with their mother, then going up to the plaza to do another art project at Family Sunday, then to the Tar Pits before coming back to the plaza for a snack purchased from the food cart. What was their first art memory? Andy remembers “using sumi ink, bamboo brushes, and bamboo pens in the underground studio [Studio East in the Ahmanson Building].” Matisse remembers “drawing the statue of the horse [that would be Picasso's Centaur] and being able to stay after class to finish my project.”
In his teen figure drawing class, Andy was one of the few kids who chose to use the sumi ink on a regular basis. Did using the ink now bring back any memories? “Mostly it reminds me of the underground studio” he said.
Matisse recently took two drawing and painting classes at LACMA that focused on the still life. Her instructors took the class to view the Luis Meléndez exhibition, and then set up fruits and vegetables in the studio. Matisse was so inspired by this, she went home and made a painting on her own of a still life with home baked bread and ceramic vessels. (Did I mention she’s a talented ceramicist too, who can throw pots better than most people twice her age)?
Andy showed me a model he made when he was 10 years old. He told me, “all the kids in the class made one room and I did a whole building with an interior and an exterior.” I asked him if this was this was the thing that made him want to be an architect. “Something like that,” he said.
Matisse isn’t sure yet what she’s going to be when she grows up, but she’ll always make art. She keeps taking classes at LACMA because, “I keep learning new things.”
Finally I asked them if any of the art they’ve seen at LACMA stood out in their minds. King Tut, they both said in tandem. Then like a good brother and sister team, they took turns offering Pompeii and the Roman Villa, Dalí & Film, “The Flying Spam!” [Ed Ruscha's Actual Size], the Richard Serra sculptures, and Heroes and Villains. “I like the big Matisse painting,” laughed Matisse.
Rosanne Kleinerman, LACMA Teaching Artist