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Kathryn Dunlevie has always possessed a magical perception of the world around her, even before she became an artist. Growing up all over the United States, Dunlevie developed a deep appreciation of what gives a particular area a sense of place. Nowadays, her artworks a connecting thread, bringing disparate places and ideas together in what she describes as “hazy vignettes are woven together.” She photographs the locales of her travels and sits on the pictures until she begins the process of collaging. Then, in construction, she finds a method of arranging her photos that poignantly displaces the observer’s sense of time and place. Being an artist located in Silicon Valley, Dunlevie is often inspired by San Jose’s diversity—not only in viewpoint but in its sense of locality. Given the difference in age and style that many San Jose neighborhoods possess, she believes that you can walk down the street and enter into a new world entirely. Alongside the San Jose art community, she happily stands with, Dunlevie’s work captures the ever-changing world we find ourselves wandering in.

“I have a fascination with history. I’ve always been riveted by old places, as if I can feel them. I’m always collecting images and trying new ways to combine them. My assignment to myself is to experiment with new approaches and see what ideas take shape. When something catches my eye, I grab it, often without any idea of where it will fit in. As for the themes of my projects, that inspiration finds me.”

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Instagram: kathryndunlevie

The first thing you may notice about Stephen Longoria is his gentle Texan accent. In his friendly manner, he’ll be quick to tell you about the craft of printmaking, his love of drawing his cat—or a one-eyed version of it—or his affection for his Texas hometown just north of the Mexican border.

While he doesn’t display anger on the outside, he says it drives his creative process. “Sometimes I get angry, and I just need to draw.” His stark black drawings tell the story about the sardonic state of mind in which he creates his art.

Today, Stephen is the San Jose–based owner and operator of Skull on Fire Studio, a printmaking shop downtown specializing in producing T-shirts and totes for artists and musicians. He describes his business as a punk rock business that operates more like a tattoo shop than a print studio, and he keeps his prices low to support his clients. “I try to keep it non-commercial,” he says before checking himself. “I guess that sounds pretty hipster.”

Screen printing is a complex process and supplies are expensive. It involves applying a photosensitive emulsion to a fine mesh and repeating the process for each layer of color added to a print. One mistake can cause your profit for a project to shrink drastically. Because of its cost, it’s a dying art in the Bay Area. On-demand digital printing is cheaper and faster, but it lacks the craftsmanship and vibrancy of hand-screened prints. The craft, he says, motivates him more than the money.

While his business takes up most of his time these days, Stephen still finds time to draw and make prints of his own art. His Instagram feed reveals his stylized approach to snakes, eagles, and ancient warriors. There’s no real inspiration behind his art—he just draws what he feels. “I try to draw what makes me happy. Sometimes I wake up and say I’m gonna draw snakes today, and that’s what I do.”

There’s a fantastical style to Stephen’s art that’s reminiscent of both Aztec pictographs and traditional Japanese illustrations. While he doesn’t actively emulate these styles, it makes sense that a kid who grew up in a Texas border town in an age in which pop culture was dominated by anime may subconsciously blend these aesthetics. In one drawing, a sharp-cornered cactus grows from a clay pot. In another, a roaring Godzilla emerges from the sea. 

What he is actively trying to create is art that resonates with music from his teenage years. He says bands like All-American Rejects and Death from Above were defining for him as a young artist, and the feeling of that music is something Stephen tries to capture in his art. 

His drawings—at least the ones he’s shared—are mostly monochrome, which makes them easier to print. While they look like they’re drawn in deep black ink, these days, Stephen is entirely digital. “I’ve given up on ink,” he says. Now, he draws in pencil, then traces the drawings in Illustrator and prints directly onto a film that can be transferred to a screen.

While Stephen is humble about both his art and his business, he has a lot to be proud of. Making a living as an artist in the South Bay is an impressive feat, and Stephen knows where his motivation comes from. “I’m pretty motivated by resentment,” he says again with a friendly laugh. “Being told I can’t do something has gotten me to where I am today.” 

Skullonfirestudio.com Instagram: skullonfirestudio

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At West Valley College in Saratoga, Shannon Mirabelli-Lopez and Mel Vaughn have joined forces to launch the college’s first interdisciplinary graduation expo, STEAM’D Fest, where “Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math, and Design” reimagine collaboration.

Guided by the collective vision of Dean of The Cilker School of Art & Design, Mirabelli-Lopez, and Dean of The School of Math and Science, Vaughn, STEAM’D Fest represents a step towards fostering future integration across traditionally divided academic disciplines and further building a culture where all disciplines at West Valley recognize their connections and contributions to problem-solving in this modern world.

STEAM’D Fest plans to catalyze cross-pollination between sciences and arts by showcasing the work of students graduating from both schools. The 3-day public event will feature an art & design industry night portfolio review, film festival, Cilker School of Art & Design Fashion Show, and Dance Caravan, as well as birds of prey raptor show, chemistry and physics demonstrations, planetarium exhibition, and moon garden tour. As educators, Mirabelli-Lopez and Vaughn believe that STEAM’D Fest creates a unique platform for students and faculty members to break down boundaries between respective disciplines and leverage the complementary nature of their fields, emphasizing user experience and human-centric approaches.

Mirabelli-Lopez’s success in organizing two previous graduation expos for her school fuels her desire to support Vaughn in elevating his disciplines, aiming for increased visibility and recognition in Silicon Valley’s tech hub. In their eyes, a successful STEAM’D Fest would allow visitors to seamlessly engage with the event’s artistic and scientific dimensions.

In our conversation, we discuss Mirabelli-Lopez and Vaughn’s journeys toward higher education, their thoughts on how teachers impact students’ lives and academic success, and the music they are listening to. RSVP Here: https://bit.ly/pup163perform

K nown simply as “Manik” to most, Dalton got his nickname while digging through his mother’s record collection as a kid. Jimi Hendrix’s 1967 album Are You Experienced caught his eye, and the song “Manic Depression” altered his name forever. Born and raised in San Jose, Dalton describes his love for downtown: “Skaters, indie bands, hip-hop, punks—it was a very colorful underground scene. You could have one conversation with someone, and your ideas could spark
exponentially.”

That kind of exponential spark has inspired Dalton’s most recent work. He explains, “During the pandemic, everything slowed down. That was my opportunity. I give it up to Francisco Ramirez, a friend and fellow artist. I would always start pieces and never finish them. It was great to see the process, but Francisco nudged me [with], ‘You should do a show. You should do more,’ got me to start painting backgrounds and framing pieces.”

As his nickname would suggest, Manik’s creative pursuits span multiple genres and disciplines. By day, Dalton is a craftsman, woodworking for his family business, Heritage Mill Work. He approaches his day job much like his art: “Definitely creative, but sometimes I am limited to what the client wants. I function as a manager, laborer, designer, quoter, sales, all of it.” Most of his art installations are framed in exotic wood, which he stains himself, explaining, “I am a builder, so I mixed the stains, and the frames are handmade with alder and poplar. If you don’t frame pieces with something nice, they lose some of
their impact.” 

Dalton’s artistic philosophy blends cultures of sight, sound, and spirituality. In his most recent work, he attempts to harness “something spontaneous, perfect, but perfect because it is organic. I came up with a concept called OCTMO, organic creations through mechanical operations. The perfect circle, a ray of light, waves, you see all of these things in nature.” Using his trade skills, he creates massive mechanical spinning turntables to spin his canvas. Once the mechanical processes are fabricated, he relies on meditative intentions, themes, and intuition to guide his painting. He explains, “I play really loud music, and most of the time, I start from the center. I like going with a theme when picking colors, but I also love seeing one color after the next pop, contrast, and move against the others. It never gets old. I try not to think about it too much. Just do.”

Meditation fuels the work Dalton calls “Circle Metaphysical”—his methodical practice of painting one circle after the next allows him the opportunity to zone in on the present. He explains, “Yeah, it’s hundreds of colors, but one hundred colors are nothing when you meditate.” Dalton hopes his introspective process is communicated to those who view his work, but he understands that each person will react differently, explaining, “It’s a vibe, a feeling. The colors are vibrations. Is it sucking you in, or is it blowing you out? I prefer to lightly focus on a piece and feel the pulse. If I am  in a bad mental state, I might feel differently about
all these colors.” 

When Dalton is not painting in his warehouse or working his day job, you can find him in the studio creating ambient new-wave music, producing reggae, or hosting a Sunday morning radio show on KKUP. Dalton is currently recording his own ambient music: “I have been working on a huge arsenal of sound for years. I want to do large, colorful installations of interactive art and music. Step on the ground, and it makes a noise. Sit on a rock, and it twinkles.” Dalton’s upcoming plans are to explore color theory, collaborate with small businesses, and paint murals. “I can’t spin a wall, so I will have to work backward in my process. There are a few different ways I have worked out. I think the bigger the circles, the bigger
the impact.”  

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Instagram: manikdub

René Lorraine Schilling-Sears, a graduate of San Jose State with a BFA in Pictorial Arts, has moved from oils to watercolor and pen, giving a voice to what she sees.

Was there a time when you had that “aha moment,” when you released your voice?

Yeah, absolutely. I had an instructor when I was at San Jose State who really got through to me. It was one of those things where you’re working on a painting and you finally see something that you hadn’t felt for decades. It finally just happened on the canvas.

Do you remember what that painting was? 

Yes, I still have it too. I was working on my BFA show. My whole series was about body art, tattoos, piercings, things like that. That’s what I had been working on for the last two years at that point. It was a single fingernail. I was working on painting a hand. It was a single fingernail, and it was like, “Oh, this is what I want to do forever.” 

When you look back at that piece, what’s your feeling about it?

I am in love with that piece so much that I feel like I’ll never be able to top it for myself. I’ve been offered a lot of money for it. There’s no way. It feels like my firstborn child, because I had such a connecting moment to it. It’s going to stay with me forever. 

What was that about? Was it the type of technique that you used? 

That’s hard. That’s a hard thing to put into words. At that moment, I felt I finally believed in myself with the title of “artist.” I was satisfied with the work that I’d done to the point where I felt like I could finally own the title artist, because that is always a struggle.

When you grow up in the Bay Area with a lot of amazing artists, you see so many paintings and artworks and people really making it happen. You think, “How am I ever going to compete with them?” 

You have three different styles in your portfolio: oil, pencil, and watercolor. Which is your favorite?

I prefer watercolor and ink, which is crazy, because when I started painting, I never thought that I would do watercolor or watercolor portraits. It was the furthest thing that I thought I would ever be interested in. I was always just an oil lover and a canvas lover, but I think there’s something very intimate about sitting down with watercolor and ink, something that seems more personal. I like that. Oil is fun, too, but at this point to me…I’m just not personally as connected to it anymore.

Your watercolor ink portraits have a very unique aspect, with the subjects’ faces missing. I hear it is because of a degenerative eye disorder, is that right?

I have neurological issues. I have a cyst in my brain that causes balance issues and visual disturbances. The left side of my temporal lobe fires at half the rate that the right side does. There’s some disconnect there. Also, I have holes in my vision.

Some days, it’s like I’m looking through a wheel of Swiss cheese. It started in 2011. The doctors still are not really sure what it is. The holes in my vision, they’re not really sure where it stems from. They think it’s related to the other things that are happening. It’s really difficult to explain to people and hard to convey what I am going through, so I really wanted to put that on paper.

Why are you choosing this particular medium—pen and watercolor—for these portraits?

One of the reasons I do pen and watercolor in the same piece is because I feel a lot of times when I can’t see very well, it’s hard to feel grounded. I use the watercolor to show and convey that whole feeling that things are happening. When you work with watercolor, things will just happen that you can’t pick up off that paper. You can’t wipe it off. That’s how I feel with these spots in my eyes. They’re not going away. I can’t wipe them away. The hard lines that I use, that are more pencil or Micron pen, are my way of conveying those moments that are calm, that say “Everything is in place.” That’s how I’m trying to meld both of those together.


How does it feel then, when people are attracted to your work and find out your story? Is there a little bit of insecurity or concern? Are you wanting to share it? 

Personally, I feel that things are less scary when you talk about them. On the one hand, I wouldn’t put the story out there, but on the other, when I did the show here, I titled it with the condition that I have. It gave me the chance to talk to 30 people—strangers—about it.

Putting it out there is easier because when I talk about things, I feel like they’re less scary. They don’t seem as crazy. At the same time, I don’t want my work to be all about my condition. I don’t want people to only pay attention to it because the story has a really personal health issue involved.

I imagine you don’t want your health issue to be the reason people notice your work, but it is part of your story. I was very attracted to your work, knowing that you had neurological issues.

It’s hard. It’s a hard balance. I think, for the most part, people…like you just said, you liked it before you knew the story. I hope that continues, but at the same time, it’s also really cool. I’ve met some cool people who have similar conditions. They can see that within the art. They can relate to it.

You’ve had this current series. What are you working on now? What’s next for you?

I’m still expanding this series, but I want to bring more medical devices and machinery into it. I have a show coming up in the fall in San Francisco, so I’ve got about eight months or so to finish this body of work, or at least a couple new pieces. That’s what I really want to do. I want to bring the medical equipment side to it, just to evoke more of those feelings, and get more people to be able to connect with the pieces. A lot of times a portrait is a portrait, and you need something else in there to show or help along the thought process. I think the juxtaposition might be just right.

What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned in life through your painting?

What I always come back to is a moment in college, where a professor told me to eliminate something from a painting, and I did it without even thinking. I hated that painting from that moment on. I could never get that piece back to what I wanted it to look like.

I always go back to that moment, in all sorts of experiences, and remember to always stop and think and not take somebody else’s opinion without really figuring out if it’s right for you. It’s interesting that I learned that through painting. 

 

See more of René’s work on here wbesite renelorraine.com

And, on here Instagram @renelorraine

This article originally appeared in Issue 10.4 “Profiles”

Tracing Roots: Trinh Mai Finds the Beauty in Life through Honoring Cultural Heritage

Heart first, Trinh Mai aims to bring people together through art. Finding comfort in
color and peace in faith, her multidisciplinary works honor her Vietnamese cultural
heritage and shine a light on larger stories
of shared humanity.

“We have to draw strength from our community work, the people we love, art, and hope. We are drawing from a transcendent source. All beauty comes from that process of discovery.”

-Trinh Mai

Trinh Mai’s love of art is deep, rooted in family history, connecting past and present. As Trinh describes, she thinks in branches—uncovering stories—in search of healing, hope, and community. Her art is a prayer, a process of discovery, honoring her cultural heritage and family.

Shaped by her family’s experience escaping Vietnam during the War in 1975, Trinh uses art as a language to connect hearts to the stories of loved ones. Having passed through many countries, including the Philippines and Guam, on their journey to the United States, Trinh’s family arrived in Pennsylvania at one of four refugee camps in the US at the time. Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Trinh moved to Southern California at a young age and lived with extended family while her parents moved to Silicon Valley during the ’80s tech boom to find work. Trinh attributes her creative energy to her parents, who were both very meticulous, creative, and clever. Her dad nurtured a green thumb and loved cultivating bonsai trees. Trinh’s love of nature and desire to connect to the land threads through her work in symbolism and materiality. Trinh co-creates her art with history, informed by the heirlooms and stories of her family and the deep feeling of responsibility to honor her culture and share that love with the wider community. 

“One of the things that the elders and people in general fear is being forgotten. And not just that they are forgotten, but their history is forgotten, the history of [their] people, the ways that [they] arrived here, traditions, food, family lineages, and the sacrifices they made. What a shame it would be to forget about the sacrifices that were made for us to be here. My fear is that their fear will be realized. It’s both a blessing and a burden to carry this responsibility to share. But one of the things that has encouraged the elders through my art is not just that they see themselves and I’m honoring their lives, but also knowing that the younger generation cares and wants to carry on the history. When families see heritage being passed down and honored, it takes that fear away. And it’s not just descendants that are inheriting that culture, it’s also the wider community that we are sharing it with.”

Trinh’s favorite mediums are oil paint and charcoal, but oil on canvas is her first true love and how she found her voice. Trinh’s love of oil painting began at San Jose State University (SJSU), creating abstract paintings. Painting on large canvases felt like creating an all-encompassing environment that she could step into. During her studies at SJSU, Trinh encountered a Mark Rothko painting at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Initially skeptical of his work, seeing it in person was a very pivotal and transformational experience for her. It opened her eyes to how art could convey spiritual essence through color and form. Finding herself standing in front of the Rothko painting, Trinh was “consumed by the cadmium red.” Describing the experience as deeply real, it opened her heart to what she wanted her work to accomplish.

“I wanted to make paintings like that, so true to what they are that they speak for themselves. I would like for whatever spirit is living inside the painting to speak. I don’t need to be a part of that conversation, but I think maybe my role is to have an intimate relationship with the work, and then the work has its own relationship with the viewer.” 

Trinh describes her relationship to art as “salvation to the fullest,” born out of a desperate need to find comfort through life’s hardships. Through abstract art, Trinh found her footing and fell in love with the comfort, light, and life that art brought about.

“As I started maturing in the art and really taking it seriously, I realized it’s teaching me to see, the art of observation. I realized that was the main lesson, and once I embraced that, I saw how free I could feel painting boxes and spheres.”

As a multidisciplinary artist, Trinh describes her use of various mediums as a beautiful and fulfilling symbiotic relationship, with each medium teaching her unique lessons. She appreciates the labor and lessons that each provides, allowing her to excavate ideas by digging deeply through experimentation. For example, stitching teaches her to slow down, be careful, and have patience. From painting portraits to writing poetry, Trinh creates her work from a place of deep intentionality. Art has opened doors for Trinh to speak to universal truths of unified humanity. “I started discovering things about my family history that are shared by so many other people, not just Vietnamese refugees, but people all over the world.” Motivated by a desire to serve the community, Trinh finds purpose in discovering the beauty of life that can arise despite tragedy. “I feel that my responsibility is to offer life to stories to give comfort to other people.” Art gives life back to objects and stories and sows seeds for future generations. Sharing these stories cultivates a shared cultural heritage. 

Driven to discover what it means to have an intimate relationship with God, Trinh is deeply thankful for her faith and the peace and purpose that it brings her in daily life. For Trinh, it all comes back to an essential question: “In the midst of life’s trials, where do we turn for strength? We have to draw strength from our community work, the people we love, art, and hope. We are drawing from a transcendent source. All beauty comes from that process of discovery.” 

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Instagram: @trinhmaistudios

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