Students thrive during intense ‘Alla Prima Oil Painting’ course at Summer Arts

2019 CSU Summer Arts Alla Prima Class

Co-written with Mariah Walton, CSU Summer Arts Community Specialist

This past summer, Fresno State wrapped up its third season as host to the CSU Summer Arts program. While earning transferable credit, students were taught by world-renowned guest artists for immersive and one-of-a-kind courses that were not found on their home campus. Over 15 courses were offered and students were able to perfect their various crafts that included music composition, developing three-dimensional comic characters, inspiring social change via theatre performances and perfecting their painting talent. 

In the evenings, the Fresno community was treated to performances by multiple Grammy winners, award winning artists, New York Times best-selling authors, and internationally acclaimed pianists.  The campus came alive with vibrancy during the summer heat and transformed an otherwise typical summer into anything but.

“Fresno State has had a tradition of hosting Summer Arts over the past two decades, and its return in 2017 has ignited students’ and community members’ passion for creating all forms of art,” said Dr. Honora Chapman, interim dean of the College of Arts and Humanities.

One of the most popular classes was the “Alla Prima” painting course led by Fresno State faculty member Adam Longatti. San Joaquin Valley native, Longatti, has been painting the California landscape for over 15 years, especially the Central Valley. His works are included in permanent collections at the Stone House Residency and the Petrified National Forest Museum.  In addition, he has two large scale paintings installed inside the Federal Courthouse in Fresno. 

For the course, Longatti brought in two world-famous painters, Richie Carter, and Fresno native, Daniel Keys. Carter has been featured in several magazines such as “Plein Air Magazine” and “Western Art Collector.” He travels the world and has had his works displayed in several high-profile art galleries, including The Montana Gallery in Billings, Montana. Keys has won numerous awards and has also been featured in several magazines including “Art of the West” and “American Artist.” The talented trio created an atmosphere of creativity and collective collaboration students had never before participated in.

“Alla Prima” is a painting term meaning “at first attempt” and is a wet-on-wet technique. Compared to the traditional layering technique that typically involves hours or days working over layers of paint, this approach can usually be completed within a single session.

Longatti designed the course with the intention of bringing technical strength to the students, explaining that “[m]astering the logical and technical work involved to make a representational painting from life is essential to creating content in painting.”

Student paints in 2019 CSU Summer Arts Alla Prima Class

He recognized that artists tend to struggle with Alla Prima due to the fast-paced nature of the technique and the required ability to control and manipulate the paint. Considering this, Longatti initially worried if any students would take the course. That concern was put to rest when the class quickly filled to capacity– including one student from Germany and another from the United Kingdom.

A typical day began with instruction from Longatti and one of the guest artists, demonstrating what they would work on for that specific day. The students sat behind their easels in a half-circle facing their subject such as a vase of flowers or a volunteer student model. They practiced and learned together, receiving direct feedback while continuously working. After lunch, they continued practicing. In the evenings, there was plenty to do as students attended the different guest artists’ lectures and performances in the John Wright Theater

Student showcase at Conley Arts Gallery

“The intense, two-week format is like “running a sprint,” as one recent student Marisa Mata has said, and when everyone reaches the finish line, they are both ecstatic about what they have learned and created,” said Dr. Chapman.  

Longatti was delighted to see his students’ growth. This was his first Summer Arts course and when class started at the beginning of July, he wasn’t sure what to expect in the short span of two weeks. However, seeing his students’ improvement, Longatti reflected on how the students’ dedication to their craft without daily distractions allowed them to immerse in their practice. 

“The intensity and focus of our students help propel them into new and challenging territory.” 

With expert assessments, as well as the constant application of their art, the students thrived not only in their craft, but also in building a community. The students quickly bonded, getting to know each other and working diligently toward their common goal. Though they faced difficulties, they also had many joys and laughter. Their ties to each other strengthened as they overcame struggles and supported one another.

The end of the two weeks culminated in a free, public exhibition where students displayed their paintings in the Conley Art Gallery

By the end of the course, Longatti was a complete believer in Summer Arts. He had always supported the program by attending events and performances, but to experience it on the other end as an instructor and receive great support from the Summer Arts staff, only reinforced his belief in the program. 

“You will work harder than you probably ever have at your chosen craft with a focus not allowed in your everyday life. You will suffer something of yourself, overcome and transform into a stronger artist. What other experience offers this?”

Courses for 2020 have been announced and CSU Summer Arts is proud to have two Fresno State Faculty members offer classes next season. 

Professor Kenneth Froelich is teaching “Scoring for Video Games” with guest artist and Fresno State alumnus Michael Krikorian.  

Professor Venita Blackburn is leading “Flash Form: Cross-Genre Writing.”  Blackburn is also bringing in award-winning and fellow Fresno State professor Brynn Saito as one of her guest artists. Both classes are expected to fill up quickly and more information can be found by visiting CSU Summer Arts. Enrollment opens January 2020 and scholarships are available.

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2021 Graduate of Fresno State's MFA Creative Writing program, focused in Creative Nonfiction. Hmong American writer.

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