By Scott Nossen

The image is familiar, but something is off. It’s the Virgin Mary, but where the soft and nurturing features of her face should be there’s only a blank skull staring back.
La Virgen, a painting by Sally Rodriguez, is one of over a dozen pieces by two artists displayed this month at the UC Santa Cruz Women’s Center.
The theme for the exhibit is "Do Art or Die," highlighting the importance of creative expression. The paintings are part of an exhibit of art produced by UCSC graduates that will be on view until Oct. 27.
Rodriguez is a self-taught painter who has never considered herself an artist, but is excited to have her work on display at UCSC. Of her selection of art, Rodriguez said she wanted to "stay centered with pieces that were more emotionally provoking." Her favorite of the pieces, Monster, looks like a Jackson Pollock-style mash of colors from up close. Take a few steps back and the figure of a woman emerges, shrouded in flowers.
"It’s a story of transformation," Rodriguez said of the piece.
Fellow UCSC alumna Jennifer Colby completes the exhibit. Her paintings depict landscapes of rolling hills with images such as leafs, moons, and spirals floating ominously at the foreground.
"[The pieces are] reflective of a trip I took to the Mexican highlands," Colby said.
Colby, a professor at Cal State Monterey, graduated UCSC with a double major in art and biology. She got involved in the alumna art exhibit through the gallery she manages.
"I have been the owner of a gallery of women’s art, and through that I met the owner of the Women’s Center," Colby said.As both an alumna and parent of a UCSC student, Colby is proud to be part of the exhibit.
"30 years ago we had a smaller campus but still some of the same educational opportunities. UCSC gives you a lot of opportunity to explore different perspectives," Colby said.
Roberta Valdez, director of the Women’s Center, has been putting on fall art exhibits for her entire seven-year tenure. Originally consisting of both UCSC alumni and community artists, this is the second year in a row that the exhibit has been solely reserved for graduates of the university.
"[Sally Rodriguez] had on her website the phrase ‘Do Art or Die’ and I really liked that phrase because I like creativity and I believe it really sustains people," Valdez said.
"The work of Jennifer Colby falls under another theme," Valdez said. "Even though the title of the show is ‘Do Art or Die,’ that doesn’t necessarily resonate with Jennifer."
Colby titled her collection "Icons in the Land" after the symbols and landscapes she depicts.
Community members who wish to view the works can stop by the Women’s Center Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. The work will be on display until Oct. 27.For more information contact Roberta Valdez at 459-2169 or visit