Oklahoma Contemporary
An empty studio featuring vibrant paintings and a metal chair with Pressley written on the back

New Light

June 17, 2020

#StudioInPlace: Real Talk

Checking in with Calvin Pressley's Connected Conversations series
By Calvin Pressley, Studio-in-Place artist
Two people wearing glasses video chat on a vertical split screen
Calvin Pressley talks to Cristina Muñiz as part of the artist's Connected Conversations series.

This week I wrapped up the interview process of my Connected Conversations project. It’s been really enlightening and rewarding to catch up with old friends, make new ones and learn about our different experiences through the COVID-19 pandemic as well as current events surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement.

To start, I had a really great time talking with my friend Cristina Muñiz. Cristina and I met while studying art at San Antonio College. We had a drawing class together, and I highly admired her drawing skill and direct connection to her materials and surface. This class laid a baseline for me, thanks to instruction from Eduardo Rodriguez and the conversations between Cristina, me and other classmates about drawing and experimentation. Paired with my first painting classes under Tom Willome, my time at San Antonio College allowed me to create and learn around other like-minded individuals for the first time — and Cristina’s tenacity in her work has stuck with me ever since.

A rough sketch of a person with glasses, featuring abstract doodles and text
Pressley creates sketches of the interviewees, which will then translate to oil-painted portraits.

Christina currently lives and works in San Antonio and has been making new, small-scale works in response to tumultuous times of 2020. We had a great livestream conversation about her recovery from a surgery that took place before COVID-19 cases started to rise in the U.S. and how she’s been responding to the Black Lives Matter movement through her new pieces.

I also had the pleasure of speaking to Amanda Deng, an Oklahoma resident who’s done work in the arts with Resonator in Norman. She also served as a frontline grocery store worker during the COVID-19 pandemic. Amanda and some of her peers have set out to give voice to the essential employees in Oklahoma who don’t have the option to stay home. Amanda is organizing for hazard pay, permanent pay increases, improved benefits and a grocery workers' union in Oklahoma.

Two people chat on a vertical split screen, as the figure on the bottom holds up a sheet of paper
Calvin Pressley talks to activist, artist and frontline grocery store worker Amanda Deng.

In addition to Amanda's activism, she is also caring for family members with specific health requirements. We had a livestream chat about the importance of strong social distancing while providing health care to a family member and how, in our day and age, we can maintain connections digitally.

My final chat for this project was with Alynna Wiley. Alynna is an Oklahoma native in her third year of medical school in Washington, D.C. We had a private video chat to discuss how things transpired for her during the outbreak of the pandemic. As a student, Alynna didn’t have the opportunity to provide direct support to COVID-19 patients, but she and other medical students were able to help with volunteering opportunities throughout the community.

Two people chat on a private video message
"This project has taught me a lot — not just about looking and sketching, but about listening with compassion and openness." - Calvin Pressley

Medically, Alynna is currently focused on gut health and is really looking forward to exploring how she can provide the most medical support to communities she’s been connected to.

Alynna and I reflected a bit on situations early in our lives when we experienced racism. We talked about how, as kids met with such incomprehensible hate, we didn’t know how to address it or who to bring it up to. We both acknowledge that the times are shifting, even in states that have traditionally pushed back on collective progress. We talked about the path of Oklahoma City, as it continues to develop its identity. We're both inspired by the tenacity of so many young people who are actively trying to make a better future for us all.

Now that I’ve completed my series of interviews, I’ll be going into studio mode to get started on the oil-painted portraits. This project has taught me a lot — not just about looking and sketching, but about listening with compassion and openness. When we do that, we might learn something new or gain a new perspective on a situation. I’ve taken the opportunity to provide space, and I’m thankful to those who chose to fill it. I’m excited to reflect on the conversations and see what portraits will develop from this process.

Calvin Pressley is a Studio School instructor who primarily focuses on subjective portraiture in painting and drawing. With a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) in Philadelphia, Calvin maintains a studio in the Oklahoma City area and has exhibited nationally. Prior to graduate school, Calvin gained experience in oil painting and drawings of various mediums while studying art at the University of Texas in San Antonio and San Antonio College. As an arts educator, Calvin has assisted with classes at PAFA during the school year and in summer programming, as well as taught at the University of North Texas in Denton.

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Studio-in-Place Studio School Calvin Pressley portraiture Connected Conversations

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