The quiet feel of Cal Poly Humboldt, along with its nearby redwood forests and rugged coastline, was a sharp contrast to the fast-paced Southern California streets where Felix Quintana (‘14, Art) grew up.
Those streets, including some in his hometown of Lynwood, just southeast of Los Angeles, are prominent elements in Quintana’s photography, which has been gaining significant attention. Exhibits of his artwork have recently been featured in the Los Angeles Times and on National Public Radio and KCET, Los Angeles’ PBS station.
The cyanotype images are dominated by streetfront businesses, heavy traffic, and the occasional pedestrian. There is not a redwood tree or a hint of coastline to be found. Yet, Quintana, 31, says Humboldt was a huge influence on his artistic development and an important part of his life experience. When he first visited the campus with his father and brother as a high school student, it impacted him.
”There was something that just felt right about Humboldt,” Quintana says. “I fell in love with it. It was exactly what I needed, to have a more peaceful place to focus. It was a very reflective space where I could work on figuring out who I was.”
Quintana said the smaller classes and better access to instructors were also things he appreciated about the school. It all played out well for him.
“There was a really great group of professors and mentors that were there,” he says. Most important among them, for him, he says, was Art Professor Emeritus Don G. Anton.
“Professor Anton was definitely one of my main mentors and placed this idea of grad school in my head,” says Quintana, who earned his M.F.A. from San Jose State University last year. “He showed me what it’s like being an artist. He helped guide me in a lot of ways.”
Anton also introduced him to the process of cyanotype, one of the earliest photographic processes that produces a blue-and-white print. Another important element of Quintana’s work came when Art Professor Nicole Jean Hill introduced him to the work of an artist who was using photographic images from Google Street View. Quintana started digitally prowling the streets of his Lynwood home and found that his father had been captured in one of the images, driving his truck. Quintana was hooked.
His altered images not only translate the street-view photographs into cyanotype, but he also accents them with scratched white pencil-thin lines that often give the pieces a feel of rotoscope animation.
His other primary photographic technique is painting with light. He learned that process at Humboldt as well.
“I started working with that during my junior year,” Quintana says. “I was using large-format 4x5-inch negatives and stacking them in the enlarger.”
He used Photoshop to add additional elements to the resulting images, which can range from abstract forms, to fantasy compositions and scenes that look as if they came from an alternate world.
One of his light paintings, "Three Figures in Motion," was awarded the President’s Purchase Prize as part of the Graduate Arts Exhibition in 2014. The piece is now part of the Cal Poly Humboldt Permanent Collection.The Oakland Museum of California recently acquired two of his pieces and one of his light-painting images is part of Southern California’s Altamed Foundation art collection.
As excited as he was about his artwork , Quintana says he wasn’t sure at one point that he would finish his Humboldt degree. His father had a stroke during Quintana’s senior year, and he was torn between family obligations and his education. He feels fortunate to have been able to complete his studies and to have the opportunity to explore the various kinds of art he was exposed to, which not only included photography, but painting, sculpture, creative writing, and even some radio performance.
“Humboldt really prepared me well,” he says. “I came out of the program ready for the next phase. When I came back to L.A., I was able to appreciate it more, how beautiful and complex it is. It gave me a new perspective.”
He spent the next four years caring for his father, teaching photography to high school students, and planning to pursue his master’s degree.
These days, he teaches courses at Cerritos College and UCLA, and has exhibited his work in both the Los Angeles and Bay areas. The attention he has received from the media has been gratifying, he says, adding that he feels lucky.
“I think I just keep really good company,” he says. “A lot of stuff I’ve done is by recommendation. It’s just putting myself out there and being present and sharing it in different media.”
He's hoping to build on that success.
“I feel as long as I can continue to create my work and do it at my best,” he says, “everything else will hopefully fall into place.”