The 2011 Irwin Scholarship exhibition features artwork from 13 art students who received the award. Ranging from video installations to paintings housed in a makeshift alien spaceship, the exhibition can be viewed at the Sesnon Gallery at Porter College until June 11. Photos by Nick Paris.

For Luis Flores, art is more than just pretty pictures.

“Art has become my voice and I don’t plan on ever silencing myself,” said Flores in an email to City on a Hill Press.

Flores is one of 13 students recognized with the 2011 Irwin Scholarship for their artistic excellence.

Each student awarded the William Hyde and Susan Benteen Irwin Scholarship receives a $2,500 prize. The scholarship has been awarded to exceptional artists to represent UCSC’s art department since 1986. This year’s recipients’ work draws from numerous media, including painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, installation and digital media.

“What really is special about working with these [students] is when they show me something or give me a perspective that enlightens me to a way of seeing that I never would have experienced on my own,” said Elliot Anderson, faculty advisor and associate professor of electronic media. “These are engaged, creative and intelligent students who have something to tell all of us.”

UCSC art student Luis Flores accepts the Irwin Scholarship at Porter College.

Flores said the scholarship spurred him to reexamine his work.

“When I first found out I had gotten the scholarship, I was ecstatic and, more so, appreciative. It wasn’t until I started getting my work together for the exhibition that I started feeling a bit self-conscious,” Flores said. “But after talking with the people closest to me, I realized that I needed to produce work that was important to me and that I felt strongly about.”

Luke Wilson, who focuses on sculpture, was also recognized for the award.

“Winning the Irwin was moving, exciting and motivating, but most of all I interpreted it as an obligation to step up the scale and intensity of my work,” Wilson said. “I feel supported and validated by the faculty and administration, and there is a new pride behind everything I’ve been doing for the show.”

Each artist drew connections to the world around them and created their work in context to their environment. Flores’ focus is photography, and his artwork touches on issues surrounding immigration, fear and most recently, concealment.

“Getting the opportunity to show my work in this exhibition has made me really consider how my work and art in general affects our society,” Flores said. “I have had to deeply question what it is that I want my work to say about myself and about our society.”

Each artist drew inspiration from somewhere different, from both internal and external factors.

“What inspires me the most is my inability to explain myself verbally, at least not well. I have a lot to say and when I can’t say it, I make it,” Flores said. “If an image doesn’t evoke an emotion, I start over.”

For Wilson, excitement over the honor boiled down to a simple love for creating and experiencing art.

“I love making art because there are people who love to look at it,” he said, “and I am one of those people too.”