New York alumni artist returns to campus to mentor students

UC Santa Cruz art alumna Katerina Lanfranco
UC Santa Cruz alumna Katerina Lanfranco
Sesnon Gallery Director Shelby Graham makes a few cuts in the Ginko tree rendering for the
Sesnon Gallery Director Shelby Graham makes a few cuts in the Ginko tree rendering for the Natural Selection exhibition. (Photo by Katerina Lanfranco)
Students at the opening reception of "Natural Selection" at UCSC's Sesnon Gallery.
Students at the opening reception in UCSC's Sesnon Gallery.
Three panels of the "Natural Selection" exhibit at UC Santa Cruz
Three panels of Natural Selection.
UC Santa Cruz studnets work closely with alumna artist on exhibition
Students work closely with the artist to prepare the exhibition.
UCSC alum Katerina Lanfranco at the opening reception of her exhibition
Katerina Lanfranco talks about her artwork at the opening reception.
Katerina Lanfranco has come a long way since she graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2001 with a BA degree in art.

Lanfranco is now a professional artist living in Brooklyn.  She is represented by the Nancy Hoffman Gallery, and currently teaches at the Museum of Modern Art, LIM College, and Fordham University in New York City.

This winter quarter, Lanfranco returned to Santa Cruz to work with 10 students from UCSC’s Art and History of Art and Visual Culture departments to create an ambitious exhibition at Porter College’s Sesnon Gallery.

As Sesnon Gallery director Shelby Graham describes it: “We had a living and breathing studio experience; we turned the gallery into a student workshop.”

The UCSC alumna worked with Graham and the students to create Natural Selection, a large-scale, hand-cut paper installation created specifically for the Sesnon Gallery space.

This imagined landscape of hand-cut trees was inspired by both the surrounding forests of the extraordinary UCSC campus, and Lanfranco’s recent six-month residency in Kyoto, Japan on a National Endowment of the Arts creative fellowship.

Throughout the construction of the project, Lanfranco shared with students personal anecdotes, experiences, and real-life challenges she has faced as a professional artist working in New York.

“It’s partially sharing information, and partly debunking myths,” says Lanfranco. “Things like studio practices—you might assume that professional artists have clear plans mapped out from the beginning.”

“Or it’s challenging the myth of the solitary genius artist,” she added. “Art can be a collaborative experience, you don’t have to look so far for inspiration or engagement.”

“I think sometimes people are afraid of pursuing art,” Lanfranco observed. “So I try to lessen that fear by sharing my own processes—keeping the thrill, but taking the fear and mystery out of it.”

When she first flew in from New York, Lanfranco asked the groundskeeper at Porter College for a tour of the trees around the college, which influenced the design of the project.

Responding to the environment, she then had the student apprentices do research and study technical aspects of the project to get them inspired and help them understand the artistic process.

“I really see it as a reciprocal experience,” said Lanfranco. “The more I feel the generosity of the students, the more I want to give back. It’s been a really great experience.”

The students seemed to unanimously agree.

“Her work ethic is inspiring,” said Heidi Cramer, a 26-year-old junior who transferred to UCSC from Arizona to study art. “I had a lot of expectations for this project, and they’ve been surpassed.”

“It’s made a world of difference to a mixed media artist like myself…learning new skills—how to do an installation, what an artist does with their time all day, how to communicate--these are all things I can apply to my career,” she added.

Leia Delabahan, a 20-year-old senior, noted that working on the exhibition was a tremendous opportunity for her as a student.

“It’s been very rewarding—to be able to work with an artist who has made it professionally, and who went to the same school as you did,” said Delabahan.

“I had this particular image in my mind of a New York artist before this exhibition. But since I worked with Katerina, I’ve realized that you can live a busy, hectic artist’s lifestyle in New York City and still be a very real, down-to-earth person.”

“Plus this project gave me hands-on experience that I would not be able to get in a regular classroom,” added Delabahan. “This is exactly what I want to do after college.”

For alumna Lanfranco, the experience was rejuvenating.

She said she really enjoyed being on campus again and made the most of her brief residency, happy to find UCSC students still really curious, open minded, and engaged.

“I think of my time at UCSC as extremely nurturing,” said Lanfranco. “It’s surprising that coming back 10 years later, it’s still nurturing--in a completely different way.

“With the generosity and engagement of the students, the totally welcoming arms of the Art Department and professors, the support of Sesnon director Shelby Graham—it’s almost like a family reunion.”

The Katerina Lanfranco Natural Selection exhibition will run at UCSC’s Sesnon Gallery through March 16. For more information, call the gallery at 831- 459-3606 or visit