Alumnx Spotlights Spring 2023
Melanie Abrantes’s New Vase Launch Combines Stoneware and Hardwood
The Filipina and Portuguese-Brazilian designer debuts a new line in partnership with artisans in Portugal.
Melanie Abrantes, ’12 BFA Product Design
I’m thrilled to introduce the Ceramic Marais Vase—a creation that’s very special to my heart. As a designer, I’m always inspired by the beauty and simplicity of natural materials, and this vase is a testament to that. The Marais Vase is a unique blend of wood and ceramic, crafted with care and precision in collaboration with local artisans in Portugal and the U.S. It’s my first collection in Portugal, and I’m proud to have worked with such talented craftspeople to bring it to life. Drawing on Portugal’s rich history in ceramics, I wanted to create something that was both elegant and timeless. I hope the Marais Vase will bring as much joy to people’s homes as it has to mine.
The Marais Vase comes in a variety of colors, with each named after such trailblazers as Sojourner Truth, Jane Austen, and bell hooks. In addition to making home goods from sustainable materials like cork and wood, Abrantes is the author of Carve: A Simple Guide to Whittling and teaches woodcarving workshops out of her Oakland studio. Find more information about her products at melanieabrantes.com and follow her on Instagram @melanieabrantesdesign.
Asia Eng’s Children’s Alphabet Book is a Love Letter to L.A.
LABC: The Los Angeles Alphabet features Eng’s colorful designs of city landmarks.
Asia Eng, ’07 BFA Communication Arts, Illustration
LABC: The Los Angeles Alphabet is a fun, quirky, and colorful children’s book that showcases several prominent Los Angeles landmarks. A few things inspired me to create it.
First, I wanted to make a dedication to the City of Los Angeles. Having been born and raised in Oakland, California, I considered myself a die-hard Northern Californian. Even after venturing off to Los Angeles for art school, I had plans to return home after graduation. However, year after year I postponed these plans and slowly began to put down roots in L.A. In fact, it took about a decade for me to finally accept that I had become an Angeleno. The tell-tale signs were there and are still true to this day: I forget how to drive in the rain, I love wearing shorts year-round, and I have a shameless addiction to Disneyland. LABC: The Los Angeles Alphabet book is my own personal love letter to the city.
Second, I wanted to make a dedication to all the cool cats out there who happen to be parents. I started a family here and I remember when I was pregnant with my first-born being paranoid about becoming a minivan-driving soccer mom. I was afraid that any bit of coolness I had would just vanish when I became a parent. So as much as LABC is for the kiddies, it is also for the cool moms and dads!
Lastly, I wanted to use my talents as an artist and illustrator to create an ABC book infused with vibrant colors and fine details to capture the imagination of both children and adults. This book is different from other alphabet books on the market—while most ABC books are simply “A is for apple” with minimal illustrations, LABC boasts colorful landmarks as backdrops.
The alphabet from L.A. to Z is covered—from the stars of Hollywood Boulevard to the lights at LACMA. Whether you are a kid or a kid at heart, a tourist or Los Angeles native, this book is for anyone who hearts L.A.
Eng has been a freelance artist and arts educator since graduating from Otis College. LABC: The Los Angeles Alphabet can be purchased on Amazon.
Gajin Fujita’s Latest Solo Show Features His Most Personal and Political Work
Paintings and drawings in True Colors harken back to the social and political climate of the past three years.
Gajin Fujita, ’97 BFA Fine Arts
“Forget Me Not (Chitose Fujita) is a portrait of [Gajin] Fujita’s mother. Based on a photograph taken in the artist’s garden, this painting is saturated with symbolism and feeling.
In its essence, Forget Me Not (Chitose Fujita) is a lamentation of times gone by. On the right of Chitose Fujita is a palm tree with lush green fronds, and on her left is a lamp post made in the style of the old Los Angeles fixtures that the artist saw growing up on the east side of the city. Chitose Fujita stands prominently in the foreground holding a beautiful yellow hibiscus flower, her favorite, with the setting sun dramatically illuminating the skyline of downtown L.A. This view is depicted from the perspective of the artist’s childhood home in Boyle Heights.
The setting sun, flying elephants, and green ribbon on Chitose Fujita’s shirt allude to her current fight against Alzheimer’s disease.” —from the catalog Gajin Fujita: True Colors
Fujita’s exhibition at L.A. Louver, True Colors, on view through May 6, 2023, is his most personal and political work to date. Most of the paintings were created during the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 6, 2023 Fujita toured True Colors with Otis College students, staff, and faculty. It is his sixth solo exhibition at L.A. Louver, which has represented him for over two decades. His work is in the permanent collections of the Hammer Museum, LACMA, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. More information about Fujita and the show can be found on the L.A. Louver website.
Faculty Member Marsha Hopkins Honors Fellow Black Alumni and Veterans
Hopkins helped plan an event in downtown Los Angeles highlighting the work and service of several local veterans and artists.
Marsha Hopkins, ’97 BFA Fine Arts, ’02 MFA Writing
In 2022, six Otis College alums came together to brainstorm ways to highlight Black alumni. We agreed that Black history could be celebrated throughout the year because it’s American history. Through our discussions we learned that some Black artists we greatly admire were Otis graduates—some even studied with the illustrious Charles White. Everyone should know this, especially the students. How could we bring awareness to these artists? Our ideas included a virtual exhibition, which is in progress; pop-up exhibitions planned for this summer; and painting images on utility boxes around town to highlight Black notables and alumni. For the latter, we have funding, and the work has begun.
Recently we had a successful event with the Department of Veterans Affairs to honor Black veterans, which ABC7 covered. JeNai Davis and Stephanie Stone, Chief Deputy Director of Veteran Affairs and a Navy veteran, planned the program. The BHM Collective—composed of Otis College alumni Dakota Higgins (’17 BFA Fine Arts), Michael Massenburg (’91 BFA Graphic Design), Patsy Pitts (’18 BFA Fine Arts), David Roy (’13 BFA Fine Arts), and I—organized and curated the work of Otis alums. The artwork was on exhibit at Bob Hope Patriotic Hall from February 3 to March 8 and will be an annual event. The idea for the collaboration was Patsy’s, an Army veteran.
Special thanks to Trey Harper (’20 BFA Communication Arts, Graphic Design), also a veteran, and Hazel Mandujano (’03 BFA Fine Arts, ’10 MFA Graphic Design), the Director of Alumni Relations at the time. We enjoy our work and will continue to grow our projects and membership and, hopefully, make a change.
Hopkins is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Liberal Arts and Sciences department at Otis. She and the BHM Collective are still looking for collaborators; interested parties can email email@example.com for more information.
Danh Tran Created a Limited Edition Collection Inspired by Vincent van Gogh
The collection celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Van Gogh Museum.
Danh Tran, ’06 BFA Fashion Design
In this collection, which was done in partnership with the museum, I aimed to capture the spirit of Van Gogh’s point of view throughout the garments, with beautiful patterns incorporating Van Gogh’s rich and colorful floral paintings. The collection includes short- and long-sleeve button-up, tee, and polo shirts.
I explored more than 35 of the artist’s self-portraits to capture the spirit of Van Gogh’s innovation and his love for his craft. Short of money and struggling to find models in Paris, Van Gogh was determined to hone his skills as a figure painter, so he found a simple solution in painting himself using a mirror. In a letter to his brother Theo, Vincent van Gogh wrote, “I purposely bought a good enough mirror to work from myself, for want of a model.” (Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh, Arles, France, Sunday, September 16, 1888)
Through his choices of color and backgrounds, each Van Gogh self-portrait reflects the continual development of his artistic style. Early dark backgrounds gradually become lighter and more colorful. His brush strokes become more heavily textured with a raised surface, this impasto technique ultimately helped to distinguish some of his best works.
Like Van Gogh, I love my own art form, and have a passion for helping men look and feel good, which is evident in the revolutionarily soft fabric I invented and named Buttercloth. The addition of subtle details and distinctive patterns further define and make Buttercloth garments truly exceptional. This limited edition collection allows the Buttercloth customer to own an exquisite garment while experiencing the mastery and mystery that is Vincent van Gogh.
Tran launched the Buttercloth premium lifestyle brand and fabric in 2017, dubbing the quintessential piece as “The World’s Most Comfortable Shirt.” Following the launch, Tran appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank, where he made a $250,000 deal with investor Robert Herjavec, who continues to help Tran build the brand.