Knox junior uses McNair Program to build on his artistic exploration

1,000-mile bike ride inspired his work with sculptures

November 30, 2012

For Gabe Moreno, a junior studio art major and art history minor from Galesburg, Illinois, the exploration and struggles of a 1,000-mile bike ride this summer inspired something he looked to transfer to his work with sculptures during his Ronald McNair project.

Moreno's project focused on a series of sculptures rooted in the ideas of compromise and negotiation -- two ideas he became very familiar with during his summer bike trip from Naperville, Illinois, to Buffalo, New York, with two recent Knox grads, Kevin Box '12 and Dave Brankin '12.

"I went with two friends, and there was a lot of negotiation that had to go on," Moreno said. "Out of that negotiation, there is a lot of sacrifice you have to do."

The back-and-forth nature of a compromise is very similar to the process of making a sculpture, Moreno believes.

The McNair Program selects 10 first-generation college students or members of an underrepresented group in higher education and encourages them to pursue an academic career through projects between their sophomore and senior years. Moreno has adapted the focus and goals of his project throughout his sophomore year as he explored many different possibilities for his study. (Photo right and above: Moreno works on his sculpture during the summer in the Art Bowl on the north side of CFA)

"It's been a yearlong process. I've gone through ideas of analyzing graffiti, to analyzing architecture, to how architecture and economics can play together to help revive a community. ... Then this bike trip came up, and that led to my final project."

While the bike trip was connected with his project, the goals were different for the two other members of the trip, who were celebrating their recent graduation. This created more hurdles for the team to negotiate.

"For them it was a last hurrah, and for me it was research-based," Moreno said. "Despite this, all three of us had fun and learned things we won't soon forget." (Photo left: The bike team, from left, Kevin Box '12, Dave Brankin '12 and junior Gabe Moreno during their 1,000-mile bike trip)

"Through my sculpture, I wanted to shape an experience just as immediate as the one I had during the bike trip," he added. "I also knew that I wanted to apply what I'd learned about negotiation and see how that could be manifested through materials."

The immediacy of any given experience has been a driving force for Moreno's education at Knox.

"It's very much about, while I'm in the process of making something, finding those things that arise and surprise me. I've learned to be perceptive and open to change while making art -- that flexibility allows the good stuff to emerge. For me that's the way I've learned from the process of making art. That's what has informed my education immensely," Moreno said.

While the immediate quality of the work is important, Moreno hopes after looking at the sculpture that viewers dwell upon it for a while after they view it.

During his time in the McNair program, Moreno has worked closely with his project mentor and Art Department Chair Mark Holmes. The close attention was great for him during the very demanding project.

"McNair sets the culminating McNair Symposium at UC Berkeley as the huge goal for you," Moreno said. "But it has been an intense experience throughout the entire year. It definitely paid off. I learned not only about making art and being an artist, but what it means to present your art to a community that has little prior knowledge about art."

The McNair program has helped propel Moreno toward the possibility of teaching.

"It gives you a taste of academic life," Moreno said. The program has helped him positively answer questions about the possibility of making a living with art in the educational realm.

Moving forward, this project has given him the boost to finish his final two years at Knox with a lot of enthusiasm.