Every day for the next month and a half, Rocky Lewycky is systematically destroying one of the ceramic animals of his installation art on display at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH).

Lewycky is one of the four local artists awarded by the Rydell Visual Arts Fellowship. The artists’ work is currently being shown at the MAH for the Rydell Visual Art Fellows Exhibition.

The exhibition will be on display until Feb. 23 and showcases the art of the 2013 recipients, Ian Everard and Rocky Lewycky, and the 2012 recipients Isabelle Jenniches and Encyclopedia Pictura, a three artist collective made up of Isaiah Saxon, Daren Rabinovitch and Sean Hellfritsch. The four winners were chosen after a long and involved process.

To apply to the fellowship, artists must first be nominated by an organization, after which they must provide a portfolio of their work along with the application, said program director Christina Cuevas. This year around 91 organizations nominated artists, many of them local.

After submitting a portfolio, artists’ work is examined by a panel of experts from around the country, excluding Santa Cruz County, Cuevas said. From here on the decision process is entirely blind, as the panel sees the work and nothing more — not even the artist’s name — as a way of excluding any bias.

The fellowship, established by the late Roy and Frances Rydell, is managed by an advisory committee working within the Community Foundation Santa Cruz County [CFSCC].

“When they passed away they bequeathed their entire estate to the foundation,” Cuevas said, “and their request was that their estate support the visual arts in Santa Cruz County.”

Since the specifics of their wish were not addressed, the CFSCC’s first ever Advisory Committee was established. The committee — made up of artists and friends of the Rydell’s — analyzed the results of a survey given to local artists, and decided on the best way for the money to be spent.

The committee decided to award $20,000 to two artists each year, and in 2007 the Rydell Visual Arts Fund partnered up with the MAH and exhibited the art of the award recipients.

“Every year is completely different,” said MAH exhibitions manager Justin Collins. “This year the artists are incredibly diverse. There are the site-specific installations of Ian Everard, the performance aspect of Rocky Lewycky’s piece, the video created by Encyclopedia Pictura and the surveillance aided art by Isabelle Jenniches.”

The artists’ media and themes create the exhibit’s eclectic display, from Jenniche’s pixely panoramic compositions of public webcam photos to Everard’s immersive installations, which explore the interplay between memory and subjectivity and the admittance of their inseparability.

Photo courtesy of Rocky Lewycky.
Photo courtesy of Rocky Lewycky.

The Rydell Visual Arts Fellowship provides these local artists with the means and a platform to display their thought-provoking and varied art, which marks them as true examples of Santa Cruz County creativity.

“I was nominated and given the opportunity to apply for the award by Shelby Graham of UCSC’s Senson Gallery,” said fellowship award-winner Rocky Lewycky. “I then sent in an application packet to the Rydell foundation with my images and artist statement. About four months later my wife came running into the bedroom saying I had got a message from Jack [from the Rydell Visual Art Fund] and I needed to call him back.”

After winning the award, Lewcky used a portion of the grant money to rent out a casting studio.

Rocky Lewycky’s work is a collection of ceramic animal casts. The ceramic cows, fish, turkey and pigs are placed on white wooden pallets and neatly arranged in rows.

His casting process is a long multi-step art in itself, which includes heating white clay, pouring the liquid clay, waiting, removing the cast, filling with red paint and doing this about 200 more times. After finishing the molds and arranging his portion of the exhibition, Lewycky began the second phase of the piece.

“I chose animal molds that are not modeled realistically,” Lewycky said. “Just as when you’re eating your burger, there’s a disconnect from the suffering the animal endured, all for that great taste in your mouth.”

Every day of Lewycky’s show, he removes a ceramic animal from the platform and shatters it with a gold crowbar, revealing its red interior. Lewycky calls this a systematic slaughtering.

Lewycky’s piece combines performance, sculpture and activism as it invites the audience to pay more attention to their everyday actions.

“Process is a very important element in my work,” Lewycky said. “That’s actually all there is, as the past and future never exist. There’s only now, now, now. The act of making art has developed new, stronger muscles of nowness and patience that transmitted into my daily life. As a society we tend to focus on what’s next while disregarding the beauty of what is actually happening right now.”