“It was a beautiful day and Nina was supposed to be inside the studio working but instead she crisscrossed the campus on her skateboard. But, she had such an empathy with nature that she must have felt that she simply had to be out there,” recalls instructor Tom Betts, describing former student Nina Fitzpatrick, 22, who died on April 8 after being struck by a car on Laguna Canyon Road near the Laguna College of Art and Design main campus.
Friends and faculty say Fitzpatrick transferred that affinity for the natural world into her paintings during the four years she majored in fine art at LCAD. Now, after mourning her death at a campus vigil, school administrators will honor Fitzpatrick with “Wave Rider,” an exhibition comprised of her paintings, drawings, sculpture and sketchbooks, which delineate her progression from ambitious freshman to fledgling pro. A 5-9 p.m. opening reception is planned for Saturday, May 3, at LCAD on Forest, 225 Forest Ave., and the show opens to the public the following Monday, May 5.
The show’s title derives from Fitzpatrick’s twin passions, surfing and making art, said LCAD gallery director Andrea Harris-McGee. “One of the goals was to exhibit works she had put her heart and soul into and another to exhibit works by her close friends alongside of hers, to sort of unite them,” she said. “She would have wanted to be with them, for everyone to come together.”
Students who had labored on their final works of the year lost their momentum after Fitzpatrick’s tragic death, Harris-McGee said. “It’s been a stressful time for the whole school but students did get back into the studios a week later. They are all pulling together now,” she said.
A second show of works by fine arts graduates will be held at Forest and Ocean Gallery, 480 Ocean Ave., also opening on Saturday. With work in that show as well, Fitzpatrick will be joined by what would have been her graduating class.
Fine art department chair Hope Railey met Fitzpatrick in her freshman year. She was a recipient of a four-year merit scholarship. Railey encouraged her to paint plein air which she did with enthusiasm but returned to her studio on her own to work on the painting further and give it depth. “As a surfer she had a sense of space and how to bring viewers into it and worked hard at her technical skill set, but what no one could teach her was her enthusiasm.”
“Nina made it enjoyable to teach, she absorbed everything quickly and was full of altruism and empathy,” said Betts, who taught Fitzpatrick portraiture and worked with her on her senior portfolio. “By the time she was ready to graduate, I felt more like an assistant than an instructor.”
She set standards for herself and, by extension, fellow students. “When Nina came to LCAD she was already fully in touch with her aspirations to become a committed artist and live the life of a passionate human being,” said college President Jonathan Burke. “It is unusual to find someone that connected with their bliss.”
The school also intends to cast two of Fitzpatrick’s sculptures in bronze. One will be given to the student’s family and the other will be installed in a grassy area on campus renamed Nina’s Park, said Burke.
Members of Fitzpatrick’s family declined to comment.
Burke said LCAD will establish an endowed scholarship fund in memory of Fitzpatrick with an initial goal of raising $12,000. A kick-off fundraiser is planned for May 12 at the Ivory Restaurant and Lounge, 853 Laguna Canyon Rd., former home of ReMark’s restaurant.