Students acknowledge impact of art educator in new Art Center show

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published March 30, 2016

 Detroit artist Lisa Poszywak, whose work documents the arrangements of possessions like these, from her own home, is a former CCS student.

Detroit artist Lisa Poszywak, whose work documents the arrangements of possessions like these, from her own home, is a former CCS student.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

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GROSSE POINTE CITY — Some college professors prefer to work with upperclassmen and graduate students, who might be more mature and focused by that point in their academic careers, but artist Robert Schefman couldn’t be more thrilled to be working with freshmen.

The College for Creative Studies professor chairs the freshman foundations program, a program for students just entering art school.

“It is the foundation of everything we do,” Schefman, of West Bloomfield, said of the program. “It’s all those basic concepts and skills that you need.”

And he’s apparently helped those students hone their talents, because Schefman’s former students — he’s been at CCS for the last 15 years — are some of the leading artists in metro Detroit today. A selection of current and former students are paying tribute to their teacher in “Robert Schefman: A Body of Influence,” a new exhibition on display at the Grosse Pointe Art Center that opened March 25 and remains up until April 15. More than a dozen students were invited to take part in the curated show, which features paintings and drawings by Schefman alongside work by artists who have studied with him at CCS. 

Schefman said his first job with freshmen is to get all of the students up to speed with regard to fundamental skills.

“Most (high) schools don’t have budgets that allow for full art programs (anymore),” he said.

But even more importantly, he said he tries to give students “the basic skills they need in life,” such as perseverance and a strong work ethic.

Jon Ciccarelli, of Northville, a Dearborn Heights native who graduated from CCS in 2013 with a degree in illustration and a minor in fine art, said the use of narrative was one of the key lessons he learned from Schefman, whose own works tell stories. It’s a skill that’s helped Ciccarelli land projects such as book covers for fantasy and science fiction works.

Leman Lambert, of Detroit, a 2005 CCS graduate who majored in fine arts, said Schefman taught him the importance of working hard and continuing even during the tough times. 

“A testimony to his character is, I never had him for a painting class, but he agreed to take me on for an independent study,” said Lambert, who said Schefman helped the young artist learn how to use different mediums. “No one can really teach you how to paint, but it was this idea of, no matter how hard it gets, don’t give up.”

Schefman said he encourages his students to remember that art is their job, not a hobby.

“Most people think art is fun, but when you’re training (or working) as a professional, it is work, and you have to show up whether you want to or not,” Schefman said. “Inspiration is for amateurs.”

Taurus Burns, of Oak Park, a fine arts major who graduated from CCS in 2002, has two paintings in this show.

“I really appreciated his honesty,” Burns said of Schefman. “He was very blunt about how my paintings were coming along. He was definitely one of my favorite teachers there. He pushed me to develop my paintings further than I was comfortable with.”

Burns said Schefman helped him to develop his own language as an artist, to take the profession of art seriously and to explore more thought-provoking work.

Lisa Poszywak, of Detroit, a Dearborn native who majored in fine arts at CCS and graduated in 2009, now documents in her paintings — two of which are in this show — her home and how people arrange their belongings. She took a drawing class from Schefman as a freshman and said that even after she was no longer his student, he kept up with her work and was a good source of advice.

“He was not easy on his students,” Poszywak recalled. “He really made them work hard and put in the time. He didn’t cut anyone any slack. You got what you put into (class).”

Like other fellow students, she said Schefman helped her to develop a strong work ethic.

Joshua Rainer, of Detroit, an illustration major who will graduate from CCS in 2018, said Schefman has been a big influence on him as well.

“I think the biggest thing to take away from Robert Schefman’s classes is to be able to see and be honest about what you see,” Rainer said. “It’s predominantly about being completely honest about what’s in front of you.”

Mary Kay Raynal, of Grosse Pointe Woods, doesn’t have work in this show, but she was on hand for the opening to see work by her former professor and fellow students. She said she’ll be graduating from CCS in December as an illustration major, and she called Schefman “a great teacher and a great inspiration.” Raynal said the skills she learned from Schefman are ones she continues to use in her work as an illustrator.

Other artists in the show include Brian Barr, Cristin Richard, Faina Lerman, Michelle Tanguay, William Singer, Alaina M. Plowdrey, Craig Paul Nowak, Rachel Reid, Oriane Michel, Ezekiel Ring, Jermaine Tripp, Cheyanne Luna and Daniel Smith. Burns and Nowak have curated shows at the GPAC before.

Schefman said he felt “very, very honored” to be the subject of this show.

The feeling was mutual.

“Every student of Robert’s was so enthusiastic not only to have a different venue to show their work, but it (was) also a way to honor their instructor,” said GPAC member Jackie Brooks, of Grosse Pointe Farms. “That’s why we have (an annual) curated show, to bring in people who don’t normally come (to the GPAC). It’s always such an eclectic, fun experience, both for them and for us.”

Surrounded by the work of students he’s worked with in the last decade and a half, a beaming Schefman couldn’t have been happier or prouder. His own children have studied at CCS, with his daughter graduating about seven years ago and his son getting close to completing his degree there.

“It’s such a wonderful feeling to see where they were upon entry (into art school) and what they’ve become,” he said of his students. “That’s the greatest reward for a teacher. … And we also get to marvel at their personal journey.”

The GPAC is located at 17118 Kercheval Ave. in the Village. Gallery hours are noon-6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. For more information, call (313) 881-3454, email gpaa@grossepointeartcenter.org or visit www.grossepointeartcenter.org.

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