• Terra's work
    Terra Clendening
  • Debbie Bleich
    Debbie Bleich
  • Tony Barnes
    Tony Barnes
  • John Lund
    John Lund
  • Three artists
    Narisa Somprasong (left), Teresa Curiel-Gonzalez (center), Narisa Samprasong (right)

Reception with the First Street Artists will be on Thursday, November 1st from 12-2pm!

Exhibition will be on view October 15 - November 9, 2018.

First Street Artists

Terra Clendening

Catherine Benita

Sara Powell

Katie Mendoza

Victoria Jimenez

Tony Barnes

Jennifer Tomashiro

Teresa Curiel-Gonzalez

John Lund

Eric Lue

Bill Marshall

Jonathan Jackson

Chelsea Lenninger

Debbie Bleich

Toni Stroman

Mandy Wong

Marcelle Desrosiers

Ian Baker

Rubi Lopez

Nikki Kesterson

Doug Allen

Jackie Marsh

Victor Frias

Joe Zaldivar

Vicente Siso

Steve Moore

Vicky Gutierrez

Narisa Somprasong

The Felt Project is a selection of work made by 28 First Street Gallery artists using felt. This soft medium unifies the disparate working methods and interests of these artists, who are brought together daily to craft their unique vision.

First Street Gallery is a nonprofit facilitating the work of artists with developmental disabilities. Until this August, the studio and exhibition space occupied a storefront on First Street, in the Claremont “Village.” It was there that I first met some of these artists and saw what they were doing. The work was everywhere, taped to walls, covering tables, filling flat files, cramming shelves next to the kiln and displayed on pedestals and counters. It was a space of vibrant aliveness, of creative minds unafraid of experimentation. It felt like a real workshop, where ideas bounced around from person to person, morphing, transforming, sliding, tumbling into drawings, paintings, sculptures, tiles, and books.

When I was invited to work with the artists to create an exhibition, it was an honor and a challenge. I didn’t want to change anyone’s trajectory, or burden the artists with a curatorial vision. I just wanted a slight shift, the kind of hiccup in production that can come from experimenting with a new way of working. Felt seemed appropriate, a new texture, a textile, a fabric that might be used by everyone, regardless of the kind of work they already did, something that could cause a practice to slip sideways, flip over, shine a new light.

In my conservative and art-addled brain, I saw the medium as something to use to make banners, like the ones seen in 1970’s churches hanging on birch rods, or marched alongside in parades. Felt sewn, neatly glued, flat. But of course, the point of the project was to defy expectations, and this is something, as you can see from the resulting exhibition, First Street artists are able to do extremely well.

There are no flat 1970’s banners; instead there are experimental collages, drawings rendered as flat cut-out shapes, layers of material mixed with paint, rolled or piled sculptural forms, abstract designs, and unexpected combinations of color and shape and form.
Each artist transformed their unique ideas and vision into this new medium. In addition to representational and abstract works, there are books, garments, sculptures, a game, and a puppet. In all, 28 artists chose to incorporate this new medium into their practice, and the resulting works are surprising and unique.

Some works are political, like Terra Clendening and Katie Mendoza’s lush oceanscape, that features the words “Save our home” within a heavily populated underwater scene. Others, like Doug Allen’s truck, are directly related to an existing practice, which in Doug’s case, focuses on images of trucks. John Lund experimented with the felt in both two and three dimensions, making layered, patterned abstract works. Debbie Bleich’s fabulous color combinations bring her collaged works alive. Tony Barnes created evocative and graphic characters. Bill Marshall is inspired by comic books, and made the first pages of his own, combining photographic imagery with paint and felt. A waterfall by Vicente Siso shows a small boat crashing down to the rocks, reflecting his current interest in shipwrecks. Jonathan Jackson was inspired by a presentation I did about my work, and made a sweater from felt that reflected his own interests, and Victor Frias made a series of curious portraits combining collage and drawing. Mandy Wong pushed the dimensionality of abstraction in works that spring out of the wall.

My time spent with the artists at First Street was inspiring and taught me much about the process of creating and how experimentation and time informs artwork. My hope is that this emphasis on making can also inspire our students to relish the process of creation, to accept the surprises that come along the way, and to be open to the transformation that an extended dedication to a medium can bring.

It is with pleasure that we are able to present these works in the Chan Gallery at Pomona College. Many thanks to Pomona College for the research funds that allowed this exhibition to happen, to Alec Long, who helped during the summer at First Street and with the installation, and to Tricia Avant for her patient assistance throughout this process. Thanks to Seth Pringle for inviting me to work with the First Street artists, and to Rebecca Hamm, Jordan Nesbit, and all the facilitators at First Street who work with these artists every day. And finally, thank you to all the artists at First Street who gave felt a chance.

—Lisa Anne Auerbach

Organized by Lisa Anne Auerbach and Pomona student Alec Long.