For many students with a passion for fine arts, pursuing a career in the field can be too intimidating to seriously consider. Art careers are often presented as unrealistic and risky.
Although it can be challenging to become an artist, the alumni featured in the latest exhibit in the Glassell Gallery are proof that it is possible. The exhibit, called “Creative Visions Beyond the Storied Cloisters,” was curated by Dan Havel, the Glassell Gallery Director and Upper School art teacher. The exhibit features the work of photographer Claire Dorfman (‘14), designers Preston Boyer (‘13) and Bach Mai (‘07), book designer Bobbie Richardson (‘11) and SpaceX engineer and amateur photographer Ted Agerton (‘09).
“St. John’s is known for producing leaders in engineering, law, medicine, education, and business,” Havel said in a statement accompanying the exhibit. “But not much is said about the talented artists that left the storied cloisters to live a life of artistic creation.”
Some of these alums began their artistic careers as students in the Upper School. Mai, who works for fashion house Maison Margiela in Paris, directed his first fashion show in the Lowe Theatre and explored design through an Independent Study Project. After graduating, Mai attended the Parson’s School of Design before moving to Paris to study at the Institut Français de la Mode.
Several of Mai’s pieces are featured in the exhibit, including designs from his collections L’Africanisme and Pioneers. He designed L’Africanisme his senior year at Parson’s for his graduation thesis, seeking to explore a romanticized view of Africa alongside the aesthetic of the Rococo movement. Pioneers, a collection Mai made in Paris, was inspired by the American West, with the colors of the garments inspired by a canyon sunset.
Mai stresses that with pursuing art and one’s career, it is important to be resilient and hardworking.
”When I had an interview for my dream job, I wasn’t even nervous, because I had done everything I could possibly do in the last six years. There’s nothing more that could have prepared me better for that moment,” Mai said. “To reach that point, I had to work very hard and constantly prepare myself.”
Mai encourages students to keep their passion in mind as they go to college.
“We seem to forget that college is a place for education. College has amazing resources right at your fingertips,” Mai said. “Take advantage of those resources. Do what you want and learn what you want.”
Junior Olivia Zhang says that the exhibition validated her passion for visual arts.
“Art is a part of who I am, and I can’t imagine it fading away in my future,” Zhang said. “I don’t think anyone should be discouraged from pursuing artistic careers just because it isn’t a St. John’s norm. The art exhibit shows what can happen if you aren’t afraid to follow your passion and turn it into something more.”