On August 22, artist Alexey Steele and President Mildred García unveiled the fourth and final artwork created for the 50th anniversary of California State University, Dominguez Hills, which concluded in May. “Learners of Dominguez: Howard, Jenika, Auburn, Chris, Ronald” was painted this summer and depicts five CSU Dominguez Hills students, ranging from the oldest student —Howard Christiansen, who is 80—to the youngest—Auburn Hightower, who is 17. Also featured in the painting are Jenika Miller, Chris Barnette and Ronald Farol.
Steele, a Russian American painter based in Carson, painted “Learners” in a series of live sessions with the students. He said that one thing that surprised him about the experience was his models’ “incredible level of openness.”
“This openness I believe was the source of their kindness, inquisitive desire to learn what my process is all about, and generosity of full-hearted participation in this process,” said Steele. “This is what really turned Howard, Jenika, Auburn, Chris and Ron from mere ‘models’ to full fledged co-authors that gave the most crucial and significant input [to the] painting. The authenticity of this experience in our mutual learning—them about what and why I do, and me about who they are—through our live painting sessions was so perfect that I decided not to touch the work after the sittings, capturing completely live experience.”
Steele said that he chose students of a wide age range because it mirrored his views on the “vital necessity of permanent learning” that continues throughout life.
“I consider myself an “eternal student” and when I see this urge for knowledge across all age groups it resonates with me personally,” he said. “We have to always learn. There is no point in time when we ‘arrive’ and don’t need it any more. One simply could not invent a better representation for this notion that Howard Christiansen, the oldest student [who] turned out to be a man [who had] a distinguished and prominent career in the U.S. Navy and now works on his third master’s degree at age 80. At the same time I believe firmly in the importance of early access to the highest level of education possible, and the case of inquisitive and introspective Auburn Hightower was a perfect example.”
According to Steele, “Learners of Dominguez” was conceived through a question posed by President García about what type of artwork would afford a glimpse in another 50 years of the university today.
“My almost immediate response was only art infused with life could fulfill this goal,” said Steele. “And so the concept of giving an experiential presence and reference point to what CSU Dominguez Hills is today through live portrayal of its distinct and psychologically diverse characters was born right there on the spot.”
Farol, who graduated last spring with his bachelor’s degree in English literature, looks forward to earning his advanced degrees and teaching rhetoric and composition at the college level. He said that he was honored to be part of a commemorative artwork for his alma mater.
“It’s a great school, with brilliant professors, which is why I decided to continue my education there,” said Farol, who had been a transfer from Cerritos College. “It feels surreal knowing that I, along with [the] other four students, will be representing CSU Dominguez Hills for as long as that [painting] stands.”