Exhibition explores the art of creating comfort in a year of unexpected hardship and isolation

Irwin Scholars 2021 sketch
Chloe Calhoun, artwork: but you have to let your heart decide
Chloe Calhoun, but you have to let your heart decide
Connor Alexander, Work in Progress holding paintings
Connor Alexander
Cassidy Skillman, Neglected Places: Below The Offshore Rig. Reduction Woodcut on Kozo
Cassidy Skillman, Neglected Places: Below The Offshore Rig. Reduction Woodcut on Kozo
Sydney Geisinger at work creating sculpture
Sydney Geisinger

2021 Irwin Scholars Talk About Exhibition

Listen to the 2021 Irwin Scholars talk about the personal challenges of studying and working remotely, while also trying to create work for a virtual exhibition during a pandemic.

Twelve of UCSC's most promising artists will have their work on display in the 35th annual Irwin Scholarship exhibition, beginning June 3, at The Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery.

Titled IRWIN 2021: Fabricating Solace, the show explores the art of creating comfort in response to unprecedented hardships and isolation generated by the pandemic over the past year. 

It includes a variety of approaches to the practice of contemporary art, including painting, printmaking, photography, sculpture, video installation, stop-motion animation, artist’s books, and performance.

Fabricating Solace means a break from exhaustion,” noted Irwin scholar Abby McPhillips. “It’s finding a space to disconnect from life’s ongoing stress and restore balance.”

And while the aim of the show is to examine “fabric” as a metaphor for connection and collectivity, it also takes a look at the often insincere implications of the world “fabricate.”

“The past year has been very isolating, and each one of us has had to create our own comfort even just to tread water,” explained Chloe Calhoun. “To fabricate can also mean to falsify, and when everything seems to be falling apart, the day-to-day rituals that are normally reassuring can seem like rather flimsy lies.”

"This scholarship highlights the work of art students at UCSC as they navigated unexpected social events that included wildfires and a global pandemic,” noted associate art professor and Irwin faculty advisor Karolina Karlic. 

“It’s important to showcase the resilience of our students at this time and the work they have produced under such radical circumstances, as they gained knowledge of new materials and produced art in new environments." 

The William Hyde And Susan Benteen Irwin Scholarship Fund was established in 1986 by the late Sue Irwin, in honor of her husband, as a way of ensuring that others would have the kind of art education that allowed her to flourish in the art community. 

Scholarships are granted each year to 12 outstanding UC Santa Cruz students, selected for their academic excellence, creativity, and potential. 

“The Irwin Scholars have been examining what it means to construct comfort in an uncertain world by paying attention to self-care, and confronting issues that matter in their lives today,” said Sesnon Gallery director Shelby Graham.

“In our virtual exhibition, the visitor will encounter works that examine gender identity, environmental responsibilities, photographic murals with links to virtual hubs for further exploration, and animation videos with 3D-rendered furniture for you to imagine sitting on."

These works will be shown virtually through a 3D model of the Sesnon Gallery and accessible online, 24/7. This virtual model was designed by Digital Arts and New Media Technical Coordinator, Colleen Jennings, using an architectural software program called SketchUp. All digital showings are free and open to the public.

"The current Irwin scholars have weathered the shock of the pandemic in 2020, the ongoing dilemmas of remote learning, lack of adequate studio space, and now are just feeling a hint of light reopening at the end of the tunnel to complete their arts degree,” said Graham. 

“After 22 years of directing the Sesnon Art Gallery, I am impressed with the quality of work each year, and the 2021 Irwin Scholars have given us all hope for the future,” she added.


An Opening Reception for the exhibition will take place via Zoom on June 3, beginning at 5 p.m. It includes a virtual walk-through of the exhibition, plus an awards ceremony, for the 2021 Irwin scholars: Abby McPhillips, Caroline Alfonso, Cassidy Skillman, Chloe Calhoun, Connor Alexander, Kalen Meeks, Klytie Xu, Louisa Balderas, Lucinda Gold, Saul Villegas, Sydney Geisinger, and Zoe Forsyth. This event is free and open to the public. RSVP for the opening reception here .