Monday, March 25, 2013

for a good man.

we've all had teachers who transformed our perspective and challenged us to go further, think harder, attempt new ways of navigating the world. when i was in graduate school for painting, i was able to not only learn from some amazing makers and teachers, but to work with some of them in the classroom. i was the graduate teacher assistant in multiple classes and with some of my favorite professors, all of whom are fixtures in the bay area art world and have been around for a long time, making art and teaching art. 

i found out yesterday that carlos villa, who i worked with in three classes, passed away early that morning. 

tears that keep coming and a sad, sad heart.

he was a man of many awards and recognitions, but most of all, he was a good man.

i can't stop thinking about this man that exemplified the kind of artist i aspire to be: kind, patient, generous, big-hearted, unselfish, funny, teacher and maker, a listener and story-teller, committed to his practice for a lifetime, known for character as much as for artmaking, and making art rooted in justice and community.

at the beginning of a critique carlos would pass out a stack of index cards to all of the students and before anyone could speak, they would have to scrawl a few thoughts down on their cards. and then he'd open up the conversation. a good practice in life in general - to pause and think before speaking, especially in criticism.

he would spend time between classes hanging out at the school cafe, talking art and life with peers and students. he always had a roll of cash in his pocket, and if you were in line with him, or happened to be low on cash he would pull that wad out and cover your coffee or lunch. every day. he bankrolled so many students without pause, and with a kind smile and twinkling eyes. he was an unofficial father-figure to who knows how many students over 43 years, including me.

at first when i was working with him i thought he was mellow to a fault- it kind of felt as if i was running the class. i was the one teaching, making announcements, sending out emails, grading, running critiques, planning logistics. and then i realized it was because he was teaching me how to teach the art of making in a setting where i couldn't fail. why? because he was standing right next to me, guiding me. before class we would take the tiny staff elevator down to his closet of an office and chat through how the students were doing, what needed to happen that day, who could use some extra critique or encouragement. and he would listen to my thoughts and then say, "ok, sounds good susannah." 

the last time i saw carlos was less than a year ago; i ran into him at an opening, which was so like him- always showing up when a student (myself included) had work up in a space, no matter how humble the location. we chatted about how some of "our" old students were doing, many of whom have eclipsed me in career since i finished school and took time off after having my girls. he invited me to give him a call and come by for a visit; it was of no urgency, just to swing by and hang out, and i didn't take him up on it. carlos has always been there; he taught at sfai for 43 years, so even though he was getting older i just assumed he would keep showing up at openings and in classrooms.

carlos taught me about 
making and teaching and living. 
how to take myself seriously and not-so-seriously all at once. 
how to listen to and respect students. 
how to celebrate (his 70th birthday was a massive party that took over the campus with friends new and old).
how to appear low-key while still tracking everything that was going on.
the art of delegating to your teaching assistant.
being in it for the long haul.
i'll leave you with some words from his teaching philosophy, because he says it better than i do: 
"My Class Strategy is always the same: I listen hard. I am aware that whatever I say 
can change a student’s life. Also, if I have 20 students in a class, it means that I have 
20 ‘directed study’ students. 

As an artist/teacher I need to be constantly active in my studio and immersed in my 
work to be able to return to encourage and challenge artist/students at the institution 
as a teacher. I am inspired. For me, “Artist/teacher” is one word. 

My role as a teacher is to identify the doors and windows of engagement, and to 
discuss the ways to go through those go further, and to further personal 
knowledge and career. 

The basic premise for me is to engage students on a level that they can understand, as well as to establish and foster goals that students (as individuals) can aspire to as artists. Continuing the conversation is what makes them go further. 

Art is sometimes ephemeral; sometimes it is an object. Sometimes art becomes 
teaching and teaching becomes art."

 so much love and gratitude to you, carlos. 


  1. loved this so much. thank you. xoxo

  2. i love his take on his role as a teacher..."to identify the doors and windows of engagement..." A good man, indeed. Thank you for sharing.

  3. What a beautiful tribute to a man who was clearly so inspirational to you, and so many.


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