My Take on TU: Apprenticing with the Tulsa Artist Fellows

Sophie Spoo is a sophomore Fine Arts major from Tulsa, Okla. Read ahead as she writes about working with artists who have received Tulsa Artists Fellowships and the knowledge she gained by having this real-world experience in the art world.

As I finished my freshman year at The University Tulsa as a fine art major with an emphasis on painting, I was offered the wonderful opportunity to apprentice under not only one or two but three phenomenal artists who have been awarded Tulsa Artist Fellowships. In no particular order, my first apprenticeship was with Jave Yoshimoto, primarily a painter, who uses a graphic style, reminiscent of Japanese woodcuts, to illustrate narratives involving social and political issues. At first glance, his paintings might seem to be prints of some sort, using clean lines and solid color delineations, but they are actually very detailed and precise gouache paintings.

When I entered his studio, it was mostly bare, lit only by natural light filtering through one large window. A small table with neatly arranged tubes of gouache paint stood beside a larger drafting table, where Jave sat working quietly and diligently. My first task was to paint reproductions of his work, a task both daunting and exciting that gave me just a fraction of insight into his extremely intensive and exhaustive way of working.

My second apprenticeship was with Cynthia Brown, whose paintings are energetic and spontaneous, non-objective and expressive. Her thickly layered canvases seem to move and surge long after the paint has dried. Cynthia’s work is unplanned, revealing itself to her as she works through it. Her rich marks and bold use of color take your eye in and through the painting, and then back again as you discover something you hadn’t noticed before.

As I entered her studio, I could feel the creative energy; music played and Cynthia stood there, barefoot amidst her paintings and tools. She welcomed me with absolute openness and kindness. Her studio is filled with all sorts of paints, mediums, tools and other odds and ends that she uses to create her work. One of my first tasks was to organize her paints and mediums, which even then overflowed the shelves and continued to resist my best efforts.

The third apprenticeship was with Monty Little, an artist who uses his experiences as a marine in wartime and his Native American heritage to create work ranging from the expertly rendered to the loose and abstract, usually a mixture of both. A student of poetry, painting and printmaking, his work translates abstract written ideas into the physicality of the canvas.

Monty’s studio was dim, with hardcore-type music playing, as he sat in the corner hard at work. One of my first tasks was to take images of celebrities who had appropriated Native American culture by wearing headdresses and crumple them up and scan them for possible use in a later series of work.

While the artists I worked with were diverse in terms of their work, they were all welcoming and happy to have me in their studios. As an art student, I found it invaluable to be able to work alongside these artists and ask them questions not only about their work but also about the art world and what it’s like to be a working artist. From a range of diverse tasks with Monty, to creating spontaneous works of art on large canvases with Cynthia, to working long and structured hours with Jave, I feel all my experiences were wonderfully formative for me as an artist. They would not have been possible without the arrangements made by Professor Teresa Valero of the University of Tulsa’s art department, to whom I am grateful. I am excited to be a part of a department that does so much for its students both inside and outside of the classroom.