By Kami-Leigh Agard
“School’s Out For Summer. School’s Out Forever…” The Rockaway Artists Alliance (RAA) new visual art exhibit kicking off next Saturday, June 17, at Fort Tilden’s T-7 gallery, borrows its name from the title of shock-rock musician, Alice Cooper’s 1972 hit song—celebrating the sweet abandonment summertime brings for the peninsula’s students looking forward to closing their textbooks and soaking up a carefree summer. However, for the exhibit’s curator, RAA board member Christopher Saucedo, the multi-medium art show, on display all summer until Labor Day, gives a bird’s-eye view of what hard work invested in the classroom could reap for a blossoming generation of artists he both taught and mentored. From painting, drawing, sculpture and photography—each piece, contributed by flourishing artists across the country, co-presented by the National Park Service and funded by Councilwoman Joann Ariola’s office—invokes the magic of when “school’s out for summer.”
Chris Saucedo, a south Brooklyn native and Belle Harbor resident, has made art his vocation for the past 33 years. He taught at the University of New Orleans for 20 years, eventually serving as chair and research professor in the latter end of his tenure, before moving to Adelphi University in Long Island, where he is currently a professor of art and art history. Saucedo’s artwork has been internationally recognized and exhibited in several cities, including NYC’s World Trade Center Museum, the New Orleans Museum of Art and across the pond in Galway, Ireland. However, though possessing such an impressive curriculum vitae, Saucedo describes himself as a dreamer.
“I’ve always been a dreamer,” he shared. “I started art school in the 1970s, even though everyone said it was impossible to think of art as a vocation. However, my mother said, ‘Life is short, do what you love. Your father died when he was 40. What are you gonna wait for?’ And these were not college-educated people. So, I was obstinate and went to art school, and of course, I loved it. Even though frankly, I probably had a lot of classmates, who were perhaps more talented than me. They just didn’t have the desire. And so, I stuck with it.”
As for his attraction to Rockaway, it began in his youth, when he and his brothers would ride their bikes from their neighborhood in Marine Park, Brooklyn across the bridge. “I used to ride my bike here as a boy across the bridge to the beach and bay at Fort Tilden. We’d ride over with our fishing poles, no idea what we were doing. All we knew is that we were down for the day, before heading back home to Brooklyn for dinner,” he said.
Saucedo didn’t predict that he would teach at the University of Orleans for 20 years, leave after he and his family lost their home in Hurricane Katrina, come to Rockaway, and experience losing, then rebuilding their home all over again with Hurricane Sandy. However, like he said, he’s always been a dreamer.
As for his passion to impart his love for art to the next generation, he said, “With 33 years of being a professor of visual art, I have one foot in the art world and one foot in the academic world. I’ve got this lineage of these amazing students, who are now all over the country. And for this upcoming art exhibit, I called them to see if they wanted to participate. Why? Because there is this magical place called Fort Tilden, in this magical place called Rockaway, which comes to life in the summer. Today, many of my former students have professorships in New Orleans, Colorado, Kentucky, all over the country. So, to have 35 of my former students, who I have kept in touch with over the years, exhibiting their work in various art forms here at the RAA, is a dream within itself,” Saucedo said.
Though some of his students achieved their academic degrees more than three decades ago, Saucedo said he continues to delight in their individual aesthetic voices and takes great personal resolve in the privilege it has been to learn and grow alongside each of them.
For example, the image that at initial glance looks like two bicycles riding in opposite directions, is titled, “Pushmi-Pullyu.” Set to classical piano sonata music, this is a 2013 collaborative video art project by artists, Tony Campbell and Matt Vis of Generic Art Solutions. The riders face away from each other and appear to be pedaling in opposite directions, however, which direction is the tandem bicycle really going?
Another example is from another of Saucedo’s students, Boris Zaki’s oil-on-canvas, “Bauhaus Emoji” (2005/2019). Painted well before today’s emoji-mania, Zaki synthesized German painter, sculptor and designer, Oskar Schlemmer’s “Man” (1920s) and American commercial artist, Harvey Ball’s “Smiley” (1960s), into this bouncy little roundel. According to Zaki, by adding his own touch of brush-and-stroke, he hoped “to inject some happiness into the ‘seriousness’ of Bauhaus’ series of shortcomings.” He quipped further, “I thought about the blue/orange color schematic, aromatic of a Juicy-Fruit gum, perhaps, would be just the ingredient to lighten the debate.”
Saucedo said he first became involved with the RAA in 2016. “When I moved to the community, I was invited to do an exhibition called, ‘Flood Brothers’ at the Fort Tilden gallery for the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy.”
As for past grievances about the RAA, Saucedo is optimistic. “New York City is one of the art capitals of the world, and for the RAA to be a part of that fabric is special. Art should never be self-serving, and nonprofits don’t work unless you give, you can’t just take. And the RAA has such a beautiful history of sharing and fostering creativity in the community. We are working on starting back programs and hope to build back the momentum that was started years ago,” Saucedo said.
Alice Cooper’s song continues, “No more pencils, no more books. No more teacher’s dirty looks. Out for summer. Out ’til fall.” However, unlike the line, “We might not come back at all,” Saucedo’s students are definitely coming back to share their love for art with Rockaway.
The opening reception for RAA’s Exhibit, “School’s Out For Summer. School’s Out Forever…” is happening on Saturday, June 17, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Fort Tilden’s T-7 Gallery. The gallery will be open to the public every weekend (and also by appointment) until Sunday, September 3, Saturdays and Sundays, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, including directions, visit: RockawayArtistsAlliance.org