Artists’ Big Creative Thirst at Taft Gallery

Artists’ Big Creative Thirst at Taft Gallery

By Ray Raygoza

Local art students collaborated with English students to raise awareness about the planet’s diminishing drinkable water supply and its unappreciated importance to the sustainment and progress of society.



The  gallery was packed, bustling with artists, writers, and their supporters enjoying the exhibit. Many students and instructors also came from nearby classrooms to observe.


“The Flow of Creativity” was the befitting name for the art exhibit at the Taft College Campus Art Gallery on Thursday, October 20th in which students displayed paintings alongside selected quotes from Charles Fishman’s The Big Thirst. The event was part of the annual “One Book, One Bakersfield, One Kern” project initiated yearly by the Kern County Library network and California State University, Bakersfield.



Local art student presents her piece to observant judges. Students participating in the exhibit were scored by art judges for first, second, and third place prizes provided by facilitating faculty.


Taft College’s Basic Art 1600 students with instructor Deborah Rodenhauser worked interdepartmentally with Kamala Carlson and Danielle Kerr of the English department to create beautiful paintings of all different media based on selected quotes from Fishman’s book. Excerpts from the book, which is written in highly stylized prose, were paraphrased by the English students.



The staff responsible for “Quench: The Flow of Creativity” exhibit. From left Gaysha Smith, Kamala Carlson, Deborah Rodenhauser, and Danielle Kerr


The English 1000 students in Carlson and Kerr’s classes have been assigned to read the book, which is a collection of musings and essays on Fishman’s philosophy about the disparaging and globally fragmented water distribution, as well as data based on his travels and research of the different ways that water is used throughout the world.


Fishman also writes of how the global water supply is becoming–and has become in many regions–irreversibly contaminated as a result of decades of pollution and the careless use of water as a source for waste.


Rodenhauser remarked jokingly, pertaining to America’s ever-intensifying water situation, “It’s as if all of the drugs and pills we washed down the drain in the sixties and seventies are coming back to haunt us!” According to Fishman’s sobering data, she is not far from the reality of things.


Fishman writes, “The new class of micropollutants we are beginning to hear about–infinitesimal, almost molecular traces of plastics, birth control pills, antidepressants–have literally been invisible even to chemists until very recently; you certainly can’t tell if they’re in your water by looking at it or drinking it. The impact of those micropollutants on our health, if any, may remain invisible for years–and may be almost impossible to predict or trace” (8).


Much of the book entails these kinds of warnings against the seemingly grim future of water and its function in our society along with musings from Fishman’s travels to different sacred water supplies throughout the world. The artists that participated in “The Flow of Creativity” were commissioned to create works that reflect his writings through their own creative lenses. Some of the artists were able to share their thoughts on their pieces, the water issues, and art in general.


“Comic artists like Michael Turner, Bret Booth, and Jim Lee really motivated me when I was starting,” says Nashel Tena of her pursuits in visual arts, something she has been passionate about since she was a young child. Her piece is an iridescent, comic-style portrait of a young man inspired by Fishman’s account of a boy that bemoaned a devastating drought in his home country. Tena says that she was very moved by the fact that even though the boy in Fishman’s excerpt yearned for free-flowing water; it has never come. Her piece was one of the few judges’ selections of the evening’s exhibit.



Nashel Tena poses with her colorful piece that won a second-place prize among the paintings, sketches, and mixed media pieces of the exhibit.


“If anyone is looking to pursue art, you have to build a passion for it and really want to improve yourself. Don’t believe people that say ‘you have natural talent.’ You’ve got to work for it. If you really want to work for it, then you can get there. If you want to be good at something, you can be,” she says.


The image drawn by Samuel Rodriguez displays water molecules and an abstract mountain range. It conveyed sophisticated blending techniques and precise attention to detail. “Earth has the water trapped in what is considered a 4th state” Rodriguez says. “Under extreme confinement, water molecules are able to move through energy barriers.” Simply put, water molecules that are normally trapped beneath the earth’s surface also happen to be above the earth.



Ashtian Wright and Samuel Rodriguez pictured with their paraphrase and art piece, respectively.


English student Ashtian Wright was responsible for compiling the paraphrase for the assignment. “We were assigned quotes about water, so I utilized my creative thinking and came up with a descriptive analysis.” Both participants put their skills to the test and produced a detailed illustration about the essence of water.


When asked why she selected the particular excerpt from Fishman’s book that she did, Victoria Fraire, an art history and English literature major at Taft College, said “I liked the way it spoke of how sacred the water is and how it is pictured as something spiritual. For me–when I did my piece–that was a main thing. Water gives life and nobody really values that.”



Victoria Fraire with her award-winning piece “Tree of Life.” She says that her piece was inspired by Fishman’s account of the way that bodies of water are regarded as deeply spiritual and divine in foreign countries.


After finishing her studies at Taft, native Northern Californian Fraire hopes to purse higher education in art and literature at either The University of California, Berkeley or The University of San Francisco. She fondly remembers the renaissance art and architecture of Europe, in places such as Spain and France, from where she has only recently returned this past year. She aspires to study abroad and looks forward to visiting Italy, particularly Venice and Florence.


When asked to advise growing artists, she relays the advice she gives to her artistic eleven-year-old daughter: “Day by day, go outside and look at things. Always keep a sketchbook to sketch whatever catches your eye. If it’s something that you’re passionate about, study it everyday. And always make sure that you’re in the moment.”


The judges undoubtedly had a difficult time selecting which pieces would go on to be displayed at the CSUB art exhibit of a similar vein. Winners were also recognized and honored at Charles Fishman’s panel on Thursday, October 27th, at which Fishman appeared to discuss his work and to field questions from readers.


The judges’ selections of the evening were Ashley Ramos and Vicoria Fraire for 1st place; Maria Zavala and Nashel Tena for 2nd Place; Karen Rodriguez, Shelby Jacobson, and Madison Borecco for 3rd place. Listed are paraphrasing writers alongside the visual artists.