Wesley Wright
March 11, 2024

Mendocino College: Artists Wesley Wright and Jazzminh Moore

Karen Rifkin, Ukiah Daily Journal

“I always knew I wanted to do art. Ever since I was a little kid, I was always drawing. When in class, I’d always be drawing pictures and the teachers would scold me for not paying attention. I was paying attention but I was also engulfed in the art I was making,” says Associate Professor of Art Wesley Wright, head of Mendocino College’s ceramics department since 2023.

While attending high school in Berkeley, he created two, 5-year-old-size-Muppets from cardboard, papier-mâché, fabric and lots of duct tape for his senior project and incorporated them into performances with his musician friends, educational songs for The Homework Hotline broadcast regularly on the Berkeley Public Access TV station.

“That was my first experience of realizing… oh, I can do this.”

Off to Humboldt State as a painting major, he was introduced to sculpture by a teacher who taught conceptual art and to the ceramics studio by a friend; he never looked back and graduated with a BA in Studio Art.

Wright, who considers himself a ceramics and mixed media artist — representational sculpture and clay — continued his education at San Jose State where he received his MFA in spatial art, a sculpture degree with a focus in ceramics.

After teaching for 10 years at a variety of colleges and universities throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, he joined the Mendocino College faculty where he teaches pottery, ceramic sculpture, 3D-design and other ceramics courses.

Jazzminh Moore
Jazzminh Moore, adjunct art teacher at Mendocino College, with (on right) ‘Harlequin,’ oil on canvas, 2001, created during a workshop with Yu Ji in Seattle and, (on left) ‘Seated Nude in Flip Flops’, charcoal on paper, 2003, created while attending Yu Ji’s advanced figure drawing class at Cal State Long Beach.

Adjunct faculty member Jazzminh Moore serves as gallery director and teaches portrait painting, figure drawing, drawing fundamentals, color and composition and gallery management. Hired in 2019 but hindered by the pandemic, she started teaching portrait painting in the fall of 2021.

She, too, drew constantly as a child.

“I was very quiet and shy and I lived at the end of a dirt road with no media, no television.”

She had a little art studio under the stairs where she drew and painted; and although she always doodled in class, she received good grades.

“I had this whole other world of art happening on the surface, all over my binders.”

In grammar school she received art awards, a way of being appreciated from an early age, and in high school was pegged as the artist. She would draw for hours after school in the coffee shop; still very shy, she drew portraits and gave them away, creating an avenue for her to connect with others.

After high school, she received a full scholarship to attend Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle and received a BFA in Drawing and Painting.

Wanting more figurative and academic painting instruction, she assisted Yu Ji, a graduate of Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Art, at a workshop at the Academy of Realist Art, now Gage Academy, in Seattle.

“I learned so much from him in a one-week workshop; he’s incredibly sensitive to nuances, color and form. What I teach in my figure drawing classes today is directly from him.”

She attended Cal State Long Beach, specifically to study with Yu Ji and created a large body of work, marrying his teachings with those of her other professors who taught figurative painting and color abstraction.

She received her MFA in Drawing and Painting, taught for a year and spent the next seven years in New Year City hustling an art career and curating.

What’s it like being an artist?

“It’s something I feel compelled to do,” says Wright. “It’s enthralling, a way to communicate with the world; it’s part of my identity.

“And it’s a lifestyle, you know because it’s a challenging career. It’s not the kind of thing where you’re like, ‘oh, maybe I’ll be an artist.’ It’s more like, you have to live it.

“A lot of what you do is not going to make you money, but you’re so engrossed…hopefully people will sense the authenticity that you have. When they sense that, it creates value. Hopefully, you’re following your vision, and people will support you, pay you and help you survive.”

Moore continues, “I agree with everything Wesley said and being an artist, we’re often called on by friends to complete a project or give a visual representation of an idea. That’s always been a part of my life.

“The tangible element, it’s a way of distilling reality into an image and preserving history in a certain way, a way that most people don’t have access to.

“Making art, and especially drawing, feels like coming home. I’m at peace, know my place, who I am. My identity is rock solid. I’ve always done this; I’ll always do this.”

What about artistic responsibility?

“I don’t put that kind of pressure on myself,” says Wright, “however, historically artists have interpreted the world in their time and place. It’s creating an image, something that can’t be said through other means, a feeling you’re trying to distill and process through your aesthetic, something that says something.

And teaching art?

“It’s been a natural progression to offer what I’ve learned over the past 25 years to younger students, artists and those in the community who may not have delved as deeply into arts training and the world of art as I have,” says Moore.

“It feels like you give and then you take, or you take and then you give, a natural cycle. More practically, I want to see really great art happening in the world and in our community; and I’d like to give people the skills that will allow them to better communicate whatever it is they’re wanting to say in their work.”

Wright adds, “Yes, I like what you said about giving and taking. I feel that teaching art is a collaborative experience, especially ceramics which is inherently a cooperative activity. You need people’s help to get things done.

“As an artist, especially as an adult, it’s always been about collaboration. That helps drive me, bouncing around ideas and creating solutions. That vibrancy gives me life and energy.”

And teaching those of us who are “non-artists?”

Moore says, “I want to support anybody who’s interested in taking an art class. Just the act of sitting with materials and making art of any kind is a cathartic experience; it takes us out of the past and the future and puts us directly in our bodies, in our hands, in an analog process that will inherently bring health to the person doing it, to the entire classroom and to the greater community.

“I meet my students where they are, at their own skill level, look for what they’re doing well and promote that. I provide constructive feedback so they can grow; and they feel good when they see their own progress; I never compare them with anyone else.”

Wright adds, “Yes, I agree. Being creative with our hands is not something we do in our everyday lives. It’s important to provide a comfortable, supportive, fun environment, connecting with people individually, discovering their interests, meeting them at their own skill level and coaching them through.

“With an assignment you want to balance skill development and creativity. You start with an idea, plan it well, and continue to build it both visually and conceptually.

“Learning from each other is key. I encourage students to give each other feedback and support, to connect with each person and move us all forward as a unit, leaving no one behind and… I make sure they know it’s hard.

“Yes, this is hard, and it’s good that you’re struggling because when you’re pushing just beyond your ability, that’s when you’re learning the most.”

You can view more of Wesley Wright’s work at wesleytwright.com and more of Jazzminh Moore’s work at www.jazzminhmoore.com.

Associate Professor of Art Lisa Rosenstreich, Mendocino College art department head, has been a guiding force in hiring both Wright and Moore, as well as printmaking teacher Solange Roberdeau and coast faculty artist Rebecca Wallace, providing support for the faculty and expanding artistic opportunities for the community.