Before Trent Tieso enrolled at Kirkwood Community College, he admittedly had no real direction for his life.
“My girlfriend suggested we start working on our liberal arts degree and start trying to figure out our long-term future,” Tieso, told The Gazette. “Kirkwood was affordable and our best option.”
Once on campus, still unsure of his path forward, Tieso took an art history class with Professor Arbe Bareis. Eyeing some of Bareis’ work, Tieso asked if he taught painting.
“He said sometimes,” Tieso said. “I bugged him about doing it again.”
Bareis did, and Tieso signed up. He took painting 1 and 2, and then retook them. He honed his focus. His artwork improved.
“The paintings caught the attention of tattoo artists that I knew,” Tieso said, about the period in his life when the fog over his future began to lift. “I started to tattoo.”
Today, Tieso is a tattoo artist at Iron Lotus in Cedar Rapids, also painting and drawing freelance and on commission. His time at Kirkwood, in addition to giving him direction, gave him an edge with color theory and creativity across his work, which is among about 200 pieces on display this month via a first-ever all-alumni art exhibit.
The exhibit in the Iowa Hall Gallery on Kirkwood’s main Cedar Rapids campus went up in early March and will cap with a final reception Thursday. It features artwork from 38 Kirkwood alumni and aims to celebrate their artistic successes, highlight the broad range of careers available to budding artists, and inspire students seeking a niche for their creative talents.
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“For current students to see work by alumni gives them tremendous inspiration,” Bareis told The Gazette. “They see what can be done.”
Art is unlike other disciplines, according to Bareis, in that it’s very exposed — requiring its creators to be vulnerable with the learning process.
“There’s a great deal of fear involved,” he said. “But everyone feels the same way. People feel like everyone is doing better than they are. But art is a process, and it’s about work.”
That process involves simple and complex principals, building on small achievements and using failures as learning experiences — culminating in “big successes in ways that are impossible to understand at the beginning.”
Even students uninterested in art-related careers find benefits in art education — including those in the math sciences, agriculture industry and mechanical fields.
And Kirkwood’s innovative alumni gallery highlights the vast array of art-related jobs — from glass to sculpture to tattooing to graphic and interior design, not to mention the more traditional drawing and painting. Some Kirkwood alumni have transferred to four-year institutions for further study in art, medical illustration and architecture.
“Some of the best artists I’ve ever taught are featured in this exhibit,” Bareis said, highlighting Maggie McDonald, who is pursuing a bachelor of architecture degree from the University of Notre Dame.
McDonald took her first Kirkwood drawing class while in junior high because it fit with her brother’s schedule, sparking what has morphed into a professional passion for architecture.
“Art gives students a chance to learn about themselves,” Bareis said.
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Although Bareis said he doesn’t expect the alumni gallery to become an annual event, he’s interested in it continuing in some capacity — as it’s received a “huge” reception this year. Tieso said he sees a lot of value in doing that.
“I like to think this gallery could inspire a few young artists and encourage them to work harder and not give up on the idea of being an artist,” he said. “Or give up on any passion they might have for that matter.”
If You Go
• What: Kirkwood Alumni Art Exhibit Reception
• Where: Iowa Hall Gallery on Kirkwood’s main campus
• When: Thursday
• Time: 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
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