After graduating from the University of La Verne in 2005, alumnus Sunny Samuel has returned to campus with “Apparition,” a solo exhibition in the West Gallery. “Apparition” features four 2022 acrylic paintings and plays with the idea of fluid movement, and the overlap between color and shape to build new circular compositions.
The abstract movement depicted in “Apparition” ties into Samuels’ real life experiences revolving around biological research, his college tennis career and much more.
Upon entering the West Gallery space, four medium sized acrylic on panel paintings integrate with the open lounge area up on the second floor of the Campus Center.
Three paintings hug one wall of the West Gallery – “Apparition A.2,” 36 x 36; “Apparition A,” 24 x 24 inches; “Apparition A.1,” 24 x 24 inches – and one on the opposite wall, “Apparition A.3,” 36 x 36 inches.
All four paintings integrate white negative space, large abstract circular shapes made up of smaller circular details, and colors like magenta, blue, green, yellow and pink.
The sunlight that shines through the Campus Center’s large windows hit the West Gallery space, enhancing the overall viewing experience, while studio lights shine down on each individual painting and the name “Apparition” in bold black letters.
“West Gallery, ideal for individual solo projects, small to medium large works. And it is, I think, a really great space for work that gets daylight with all the windows and has a lot of public traffic,” Dion Johnson, director of art galleries and distinguished artist, said. “So based on his work and the sizes he’s been working in, felt like a good fit for him, the space.”
The exhibition name “Apparition” is loosely inspired by two cultural definitions of the word, an unusual or ghost-like appearance and the act of becoming visible, Samuel said.
Samuel graduated from the University of La Verne in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in biology. Though his work is not a direct representation of science, he said he pulls from biological concepts but also movement in all forms.
“A lot of the ideas of biology, microscopically, that’s happening. But I also don’t want to lose the sense of joy that happens at the body scale,” Samuel said.
Samuel said a big part of the reason he came to the University La Verne was to play on the tennis team, and that also contributed to his fascination with movement.
“Oftentimes, the idea of these units, bouncing, moving, propelling, activating outwards or imploding inwards, all these kinds of movements that happen on our scale are also an important part of the work,” Samuel said.
In many of his works, including those in “Apparition,” Samuel incorporates a tiny ring-like shape used to make up larger figures.
“I’ve long been obsessed with the circles and the appearance of a human cell,” Samuel said. “They become parts of a larger unit that I think create forms, and they also create movements.”
Samuel said the form of this repeated circular detail is partly inspired by the gyrus, sulcus and ridges of the human brain.
“If I make that into a circle then I stack more circles on top of that, based on the way those circles interact and the colors that are there, you start to see what’s called optically mixing the colors,” Samuel said.
Rather than using additive stacking of colors in these paintings, he said this technique allows for colors to mix transparently and create more of a visual stimulation in contrast to the white negative space.
“It creates an activity, a friction, a flicker of energy on the surface,” Samuel said.
After graduating from ULV, he went on to medical school in 2008 with the intention of becoming a doctor. He said long before medical school became a dream of his during childhood, he was naturally drawn to art.
“What I really liked to do is get under the microscope and look at specimens, spend my time learning about the biological world but rather than doing technical research into some of these questions, I was making drawings and paintings often about these concepts,” Samuel said.
Although he loved the sciences, he realized art was his central passion and left to pursue being an artist.
“At the time, I didn’t realize that it was this fascination with the biological world, but I was drawn to making art about it, that ended up leading to that change,” Samuel said. “When I was in medical school, I also spent a lot of my time applying the principles of physiology and medicine to art, to topics that I wanted to explore in painting and installation.”
He received his master’s of fine arts from University of California Santa Barbara and taught
in the Department of Art and College of Creative Studies, where he designed an
undergraduate studio art course at the intersection of art and science. Samuel’s art has been featured in exhibitions across Los Angeles, New York, Santa Barbara and San Diego.
After Johnson approached him with the idea to put up a solo exhibition on campus, Samuel began creating all new works specifically for the West Gallery in January and was working up until the installation date.
When the birth of his son came two weeks early in April when the show was set to open on May 2, he created a makeshift studio in his living room.
With his newborn child and wife by his side, the four acrylic paintings in “Apparition” came to life.
Johnson said creating this exhibition was a mutual trust between him and Samuel – trust in Samuel to create works for the Gallery and Samuel’s trust that he could bring that vision alive.
“It’s my goal for the artist’s voice, their work, to be front and center and to support that idea and that vision,” Johnson said.
He said everything from writing about the work to the installation process was collaborative.
“(My description) is hopefully more accessible to someone who may not necessarily feel comfortable about abstract shapes and colors,” Johnson said. “It’s a good starting point into the work, but it’s certainly not what the work is. It’s a gateway to it.”
Samuel said he noticed the small circular units used in his previous work are much more tightly confined than those in “Apparition.”
“They used to be very central in composition, and they used to be really condensed and (could be seen a portrait),” Samuel said. “And since Noah was born, my son, I started making these in a much more… joyful.. they expand much more into landscape, and they become much more about motion. I was just thinking if there was some way that Noah had gotten me to open these drawings up into a much livelier space.”
“It’s super exciting for me and my work to have it open up in that way,” Samuel added.
“Apparition” is on view until June 10. The West Gallery is located on the second floor of the Abraham Campus Center, which is open from 7 a.m. to midnight.
Anabel Martinez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.