Mesa College Drive-In: An Outdoor Art Exhibition

November 9, 2020 | San Diego Mesa College

Mesa College Drive-In: An Outdoor Art Exhibition, held 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. from November 13 through December 9, 2020, is a visual time capsule capturing the dramatic events of the last eight months—plague, social unrest and fires.

This physically distant display, including 36 California artists, allows you to stay in your car and drive through the exhibition. Curated by the San Diego Mesa College Museum Studies class, the works on display represent the changing spaces of this ‘new normal’ 2020 — indoors and outdoors, public and private — as well as the virtual versus the physical. The artworks have been painted or printed onto 3x5-foot banners and attached onto the fence around the perimeter of the college’s Parking Lot 1. The impacts of this year have been difficult on the art community and Mesa College is staying adaptable through this innovative presentation. This exhibition reimagines the possibilities of human connection and empowerment in a time of crisis. This event is free and open to the public.

Johanna Poethig, Ultimate Truth, digital image, Katie Flores, Summer of Love No. 2, acrylic and Christopher Tucker, Smoking City, digital drawing
Johanna Poethig, Ultimate Truth, digital image, (2020); Katie Flores, Summer of Love No. 2, acrylic (2020); and Christopher Tucker, Smoking City, digital drawing, (2020).

In the midst of radical restructuring of the public landscape and the private space due to COVID-19, and the added effects of climate change, artists such as Christopher Tucker, Johanna Poetig, and Don Masse bring attention to striking distortions to familiar environments. The fretted linework of Tucker’s Smoking City presents a tragic urban drama where a puppet-like woman is suspended in disbelief in the midst of burning structures. A noxious environment is depicted in Johanna Poethig’s Ultimate Truth, where a bright-orange sky casts a strange glow over the sinister and strange reality of smoke-born San Francisco. Muralist and celebrated Zamorano Elementary School art teacher Don Masse painted the image Persist, on a garage door. “The mural faces our street. It serves as a visual call to keep pushing through obstacles.” Mesa alumni Lourans Mikhail contributes Perception is Reality, playing off of the double entendre of 2020 and 20/20 vision, Mikhail has created an eye chart stating “My Skin Color is Not a Threat, Enough is Enoughhhhh!” The exaggerated wording is pleading, illustrating the exasperated feeling of still having to fight for basic rights. 

This exhibit also includes pieces directly related to the Coronavirus, its spread and the strain of this forced quarantine. Victor Angelo’s digital work uses a patterned design that mimics the cellular structure of the virus. The exhibit includes one free-standing sculpture, Michelle Montjoy’s Sneeze, created with fabric, thread, galvanized pipe and concrete directly representing COVID-19 and its spread. The series of three flags show the progression of the illness, the first being an illustration of a sneeze’s particles spreading through the air and rendered through embroidery. Sheena Rae Dowling turns inward with her painting The Loneliest Place on Earth. Dowling brings awareness to the different battles, personal and public, that are being waged. Dowling’s portraits use negative space to allow the viewer to fill in the blanks, including the voiding of the eyes highlighting the loss of one’s self in the addiction. Dowling’s daunting pieces call to a lesser spoken about side effect of the seclusion.

Artists Bhavna Mehta and Remi Dalton expose the ways 2020’s chaotic world leaks into our private spaces. In Animated Couple, Mehta depicts an incongruous visual relationship, a relatable metaphor for any couple sharing a living space during this pandemic. Remi Dalton’s Hysterical and Ghosted grants a campy view into dystopian isolation. Set in vivid, high-contrast hues Dalton’s Victorian interior paintings play with loneliness and delirium in a half-virtual, half-physical world. Emoji ghosts and conversation hearts float ironically in the fanciful furnished space. She asks: What’s lost when we replace the physical world for the digital?

While much of this exhibition reflects a transformation of society’s public and private worlds, the works of Elizabeth Salaam, Katie Carrion, and Scott Gengelbach use political and social outcry as a form of reclaiming power. Elizabeth Salaam’s Pleasure Seeker, is a photo-montage self-portrait highlighting personal expression and self-destruction, the body of a black nude woman takes the form of a crumbling monument. The World on Fire painting by Katie Carrion continues her female-empowering murals of modern cowgirls. Though the hills above her may be ablaze, the hero of the piece can enjoy a smoke watching a police car burn. Also engaging with the current civil rights movement against police brutality, Scott Gengelbach’s Shot in the Back co-opts 90’s nostalgia for a call to action.

Amidst these charged works, painter Katie Flores bold, bright Summer of Love No. 2 becomes a rebellious expression of joy against the tumult. Diagnosed with autism at a young age, she shares her vibrant perspective through playful abstractions. At the start of the lockdown, Flores was forced to halt her art practice when her studio Revision, was temporarily closed. Her mother helped her move into a shared space with mentor artist, Amanda Saint Claire. Flores’ series chronicles the support she received during the pandemic. The artist reminds us that with love, beauty can flourish even in the most trying of times.


San Diego Mesa College, 7250 Mesa College Drive, San Diego, CA
Outdoors in Parking Lot 1. Enter through Mesa College Drive and follow directions.
Exhibition Hours: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. Closed Weekends and School Holidays.
Closed Thanksgiving week, November 21- 29.

Participating Artists

Kirsten Aaboe – Victor Angelo - Jenny Armer - Lucy Boyd-Wilson – John Calavitta – Katie Carrion - Michael Chavez – Remi Dalton – Joseph DeLaunay – Sheena Rae Dowling - Christopher Ferreria – Katie Flores – Kirsten Francis - Sarah Frey – Sora Gallagher - Scott Gengelbach – Sofia Gonzalez – Janice Grinsell - Steve Harlow - Kathleen Kane-Murrell – Ginger Lou - Don Masse - Bhavna Mehta – Lourans Mikhail – Michelle Montjoy - John Oleinik – Judith Parenio - Johanna Poethig – Yvette Roman – Elizabeth Salaam - T. Jay Santa Ana – Gail Schneider – Andrew Sena – Jennifer Steffey – Christopher Tucker – Cindy Zimmerman

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