Amid booming techno, flashing lights, and the musky smell of a dirty dance floor, Leslie Roades ’09 started her art career.
No, it wasn’t as glamorous as she had hoped. It was 2012, and Roades was a part of a group show called Raw Artists. To an artist who describes her art as “cosmic surrealism,” the cosmos in the nightclub that night may have even seemed surreal. As homespun as it was, “Raw Artists helped me get going. They help new, emerging artists expose their work,” Roades says. “I was just excited to have a space to put up my art for a few hours.”
Leslie Roades stands in front of a collection of her art with featured close-ups of pieces created with Roades’ “new perspective.”
Roades would go on to show her art around Houston at Hardy and Nance Studios and JoMar Visions, and she was a part of The Big Show at the Lawndale Art Center. “At that time, I was really confident about my art,” Roades says. “Now, I’m actually in a place where I am questioning everything, realizing that I didn’t really know what I was doing, and that I had so much still to learn.”
She calls it a new perspective, one that is triply inspired by her balance of work life, school life, and artistic life. A high school art teacher in the Houston area, Roades is also pursuing her MFA at the Vermont College of Fine Arts and challenging herself each day to find her voice as an artist. Through this wonderful connection in the cosmos, she is building a portfolio with a new perspective, one she hopes will propel her artistic endeavors to gallery showings, commissions, studio spaces, and beyond.
A painter, Roades is currently branching out into new art mediums, such as photography and conceptual art. “My art is completely transforming because of this MFA program. My work has begun examining my own relationship with nature and my interactions with my environment,” Roades says. “It is about time, matter, transience, and honoring these connections we have with all of existence. As humans we are ‘wholes’ but also a part of something grander than ourselves.”
Roades notes that education is the most important way for artists to understand themselves within the larger artistic world. Education, especially at Trinity, is how Roades found the confidence she needed to begin the continuous process of finding and sharing her understanding.
“My Trinity professors always emphasized that when you’re making art, the idea behind it is the vision you are sharing with the world. It’s not just how good you are at drawing or painting, but that you want to use your art to say something. You’ve latched onto something that you’re really passionate about,” Roades says. “My professors encouraged me to pursue that.”
Roades kept this encouragement so close to heart that she decided to pursue teaching. She received her Master of Arts in Teaching from Rice University in 2011, and she hopes her teaching career will one day transform into university professorship. As a teacher, Roades believes her job is not only to teach students art, but also to introduce them to different types of artistic mediums, artists, and genres—to support their creativity so they can come up with something new.
“Art is a way to address what their passions are,” Roades says, “a way to explore a spirit that’s personal to them.”
It’s no coincidence that the word “spirit” is so closely associated with both art and entrepreneurship. An artistic spirit is a moving, passionate, creative idea; an entrepreneurial one a bold, gutsy, go-for-it perseverance. When these spirits align, spirits that are tireless, tenacious, and transformational, artrepreneurship is born. From painting to photography, music to theater, many Trinity artrepreneurs have created successful startups in their own mediums and genres, and they’ve used their own artistic and entrepreneurial spirits to get there.
+ View more of Leslie’s art at leslieroades.com
Walking through the lobby of Northrup Hall, it is hard not to be mesmerized by the billboard-size image that covers the south wall. On a dark, light-bent background, plumeria and wisteria weave intricately through one another, and several bees buzz above a thistle. A lone, folded note sits oddly misplaced in the middle; it silently screams that it doesn’t belong.
A student walks by and says to her friend, “That’s a pretty cool painting.” Her friend studies it for a moment and replies, “I don’t think it’s a painting. I think it’s a photograph.”
The plaque on the wall confirms it. Yet this isn’t just any ordinary photograph; it’s “The Secret,” an authentic Ansen Seale.
Ansen Seale stands in front of “The Secret” in the lobby of Northrup Hall at Trinity University. Seale’s “Vortex no. 3” is on display on the second floor of the Center for the Sciences and Innovation. Photos by Anh-Viet Dinh ’15.
Known for his use of a little-known technique called slitscan photography, Ansen Seale ’83, who graduated with double majors in journalism, broadcasting, and film and studio art, enjoyed learning about surrealism during his art history classes at Trinity. He had an eye for things slightly misplaced and began photographing these oddities from a formalist perspective, describing his art as “halfway between Mondrian and Dalí.” This experimentation culminated in the creation of his own custom panoramic camera, and from this camera, Seale’s distinctive photographic style was born.
Rather than suspending a single moment, Seale’s photography examines the passage of time. Through his camera, a single sliver of space is imaged over an extended period—hence the term slitscan.
“Instead of mirroring the world as we know it, this camera records a hidden reality,” Seale says. The apparent “distortions” in his images all happen inside the camera. “When the real world is this beautifully bizarre, manipulation is unnecessary.”
With a composer for a father and a poet for a mother, Seale was born with an artistic spirit—his brothers are both artists, too. He had an inkling that he wanted to get into photography while he was still in high school—he and a group of friends developed short films in the style of Monty Python in their free time—and he picked Trinity because of its strong journalism, broadcasting, and film department (now named the Department of Communication). Being a photographer with the Trinitonian gave him access to the film lab, and his art professors, namely Bill Bristow and the late Phil Evett, allowed Seale to “let me do anything I wanted to do” in the art studios, Seale says, “and they were very supportive about all of it. I think that’s really the key to a creative person’s spark.”
Seale says he didn’t realize until about a decade after graduating that he had grown to be a professional artist. “The focus was on studio art: How do you draw? How do you sculpt? How do you design? It was not about how you make a living drawing or sculpting or being a graphic designer,” Seale says. “Those skills were saved for after I got out of school. So I had to scrap a little bit and learn on my own.”
As a senior at Trinity, Seale tried his hand at these skills, landing a job with photographer and fellow alumnus Charles Parish ’60—a job that would continue to support Seale for several years while he began experimenting with creative techniques of his own. He built a black-and-white darkroom at Parish’s facility and enjoyed the supportive freedom to tinker, fail, and start over again.
“My techniques weren’t that sophisticated and my tools weren’t that good” at first, Seale says, “but I did begin to notice strange things while I was taking pictures with this new kind of camera.” Honing both his tools and his craft—even drawing on Einstein’s concepts of light and relative motion—Seale recognized the action of the subject in front of his lens resulted in amazing distorted forms akin to cubism in painting.
While some artists choose to reserve their most creative actions for art shows and galleries, Seale found commissioned and commercial work to be a better business model: Pitch an idea, sell the idea, then get the money to do the work.
“I did commercial work, and I don’t regret that at all,” Seale says. “It gave me the skills, the contacts, and the ability to stick with a budget and all of those practical things I needed to succeed.” In addition to “The Secret,” Seale was commissioned to create work for the Center for the Sciences and Innovation: “Vortex no. 3” is a slitscan photograph on acrylic illuminated by LED lighting and depicts water flowing over time.
Outside of the red brick buildings, Seale’s commissioned works around San Antonio include his favorite public art installation, “You Activate this Space.” An interactive display, passers-by on the staff bridge at University Hospital are encouraged to play with the piece as they walk by 42 backlit panels that react with color, music, and light in response to human movement.
“It was very challenging, and I like a good challenge,” Seale says, adding, “but I’ve learned that I can’t do it by myself. You have to be open to help, to suggestions, to serendipity and ideas that run across in front of you when you’re not expecting it. We all stand on the shoulders of giants, and what I’ve been able to achieve is only because I learned how to balance there at Trinity.”
+ View more of Ansen’s slitscan photography at ansenseale.com
“In the arts, it’s all about what you’re going to do next.” So says Rob Drabkin ’04, a singer-songwriter from the Denver area.
Perhaps budding musicians wouldn’t expect to hear a piece of advice such as “underestimate whatever you’re doing” or “make sure you’re always thinking three steps ahead,” but they are words that Drabkin lives by. This musical artrepreneur would know: After multiple national and international tours that have taken him from the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver to Doha, Qatar, and after receiving more than 650,000 spins in one month for his latest single, “Someday,” the two-time Westworld’s Best Singer-Songwriter is a voice to listen to.
Drabkin’s career has been a series of “nexts.” Majoring in biochemistry/molecular biology and Spanish at Trinity, Drabkin began thinking his senior year about the next phase of his life. “The more I got into the science program at Trinity, the more I wanted to pursue my Ph.D.,” Drabkin says. “But then the next thing I knew, all I wanted to do was music.”
It was a whirlwind transition from there. “I had always done music. I was ‘the campfire guy’ within my social circle since I had played guitar my whole life,” he says. Drabkin’s first immersion in the art scene was in New York during his senior year, where he saw active, professional musicians dedicating their lives to music and art. It was truly an inspiration.
“Something about that trip made me want to sing,” Drabkin says. “Singing was something that I’d never done in my life, and at the time, singing and writing songs were the hardest things I could imagine doing. But both of those challenges lit a fire in me, and suddenly all I wanted to do was music.”
In his last semester of college, Drabkin took a piano course from music professor Carolyn True. “I think she saw in me a really driven student. I was tackling music from a personal level, and when I told her that I wanted to pursue music when I was done with college, she could not have been more on board,” Drabkin says. He also fondly remembers music professor Jim Worman’s support and advice; Worman was then-director of Trinity’s Jazz Ensemble, where Drabkin played rhythm electric guitar. “Having that kind of encouragement from faculty at Trinity certainly put my head in a different direction to think that I could play music professionally.”
After graduation, Drabkin moved back home to the Denver area, and it was there that he worked up the courage to perform his first open-mic show. He took the leap from being “the campfire guy” to being a professional musician, entering the music scene in 2006 at a time when music was undergoing a digital revolution. With a huge shift over the past 10 years in the way music is made and produced, Drabkin says that he’s learned most of his music business expertise just by being “out there” and networking with the people he knows.
Rob Drabkin performs at the SolShine Music Fest in Winter Park, Colo., in 2015. Photos courtesy of Kit Chalberg Photography.
Lucky for Drabkin, he had a built-in network with his fraternity brothers in Kappa Kappa Delta. “Right after college, when I started playing small venues, my first group that supported me were Kappa alumni,” Drabkin says. “I could go play in New York and have 20 people at a show because of this network I had.” Drabkin even had the chance, cheered on by the Kappas, to come back to Trinity in the summer of 2007 and play the New Student Orientation Welcome Week Concert.
“It’s your own career to develop,” Drabkin says. “Every performance you learn something new. Sure, I can sit here and say I’ve turned on the radio and heard my songs, and those songs have done really well, and from that momentum we’ve gotten some really great gigs and great tours, but then eventually that goes away. So what am I going to do next?”
Next, we find now, is “Someday,” a song about having the courage to choose love in every decision we make—a song that Drabkin says has the potential to become a hit, by his standards anyway: “When everyone knows a song, when people can sing along to it, that qualifies as a hit. And I can’t wait to see what we do with that momentum in 2017.”
With momentum comes agility, a trait Drabkin notes is essential to what comes next. He writes and performs both as a singer-songwriter and as a vocalist with his “musical dream team,” and admits that even though he is sometimes stubborn, he recognizes the importance of working together to produce music.
“On the most primitive level, success is being happy with what you’re producing, what you’re creating, what you’re putting out there,” Drabkin says, noting he and his band collaborate not just to produce something successful, but to produce music that is new, innovative, and—there’s that phrase again—“three steps ahead.”
“Having a next step in mind is a big part of the ‘mental game,’” Drabkin says. “From small goals to huge goals, whether the goal is ‘I need to finish the last line of a chorus today’ or ‘Two years from now, this is where I want to be,’ having goals is essential.” As of Feb. 2, Drabkin is one step closer to where he wants to be: He has signed his first major management and record deal with Denver-based 7S Management. In the company of music groups such as American Authors and Dinosaur Jr., he is the first artist signed with 7S as a label.
As Drabkin powers forward, he reiterates a favorite quote through the strings of his acoustic guitar: “You’re only as strong as your next move.”
+ Listen to “Someday” and view Rob’s upcoming tour dates at robdrabkin.com
If you think about startups brewed in biochemistry labs, a theater company might not be your first thought. Yet such is the case for Rubén Polendo ’93, the chair of the Department of Drama at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU and founding artistic director of Theater Mitu.
While Polendo graduated with a biochemistry major, his spirit of inquiry was in the research lab and his heart was on the stage. Though theater wasn’t his formal major or minor, “They couldn’t keep me out of the theater department,” Polendo says, laughing. His academic adviser, chemistry Professor Emeritus John Burke, advised him to pursue his theater passions further by studying abroad, and it was at the University of Lancaster in Lancashire, England, that Polendo realized the true nature of his dream.
“I was indeed interested in experimentation,” Polendo says, “but it wasn’t in the form of chemicals or biochemical systems. It was with images and how we tell stories and how we use theatrical language to convey emotion.”
Theater Mitu’s production of “Hamlet/UR-Hamlet.” Photo courtesy of Theater Mitu. Rubén Polendo visits Japan on a research trip.
Polendo notes that people have always asked him how he made the leap from biochemistry to theater, (and as it happens, the author of this article was guilty asking, too), but to Polendo, this didn’t feel like a leap—“it felt like a progression. Everything I learned as a biochemist was then to be applied to the arts.”
Coming back from abroad, Polendo felt transformed and alive. He dove head first into the theater program at a time when the theater department “invited a kind of agency,” he says. “In other words: If you want it to happen, make it happen.” Polendo credits Trinity’s intimate size and culture of curiosity for encouraging him and his classmates to begin a theater company on campus his senior year. Lemon in Your Eye used the theater for midnight performances, but that didn’t keep Polendo’s chemistry classmates and professors—and other students and teachers from all academic corners of campus—from attending.
“It was so meaningful to be trusted and mentored at that level,” Polendo says. “I was shaped into a scientist, I was invited to have agency over what I did, and I was invited to consider collaboration to be well outside of a traditional field.”
By the time Polendo graduated, this trust had begun to steer him in a new direction. Enrolling in a theater graduate program at the University of California, Los Angeles, Polendo felt charged with the idea of making something unique happen. Relying on his research background, Polendo revisited the creation of a theater company during his second year at UCLA.
“I realigned myself and felt very much akin to the startup mentality,” Polendo says. “There wasn’t something for me to ‘fit in’ to, so I had to create it.”
It was in this “unique constellation of things” that Theater Mitu was born. Polendo’s interest in innovation inspired an experimental twist on the traditional theater company, employing a permanent group of innovative, interdisciplinary collaborators who are globally educated in all facets of theatrical arts. More than 20 years later, Theater Mitu is still committed to challenging the parameters of theater research and practice. After being given a residency at the Public Theater in New York, Theater Mitu moved across the country and found its current home.
“We had a great amount of recognition very quickly in New York because we were doing something different, from looking at arts practice as research, to looking at interdisciplinarity, and to looking at global collaboration,” Polendo says. “All of these seeds were planted during my time at Trinity.”
As these seeds took root, Polendo began to sow more theatrical gardens around the world. When not on tour, he splits his time between New York City and the United Arab Emirates at NYU Abu Dhabi while also leading artist training programs at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México’s Centro Universitario de Teatro in Mexico City, the Patravadi Theater in Thailand, the Visthar Center in India, and at Duoc UC in Chile.
At the end of the day, bags packed or unpacked, what it boils down to for this globetrotting artrepreneur is an interdisciplinary community bringing multiple perspectives to experience visual, aural, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual all in the same moment.
“The community that Trinity builds really sets individuals on a path to understanding how important community can be in your life and in your work. Whether it’s a financial or artistic company that you’re starting, you’re starting a community—a community invested in a goal, a community working toward something,” Polendo says. “This was awakened during my time at Trinity.
“When you feel that community, take advantage of it,” he adds. “Grab it. Breathe it. Talk it. Eat it. It is so important to your success.”
+ Learn more about Theatre Mitu online at theatermitu.org. While you're there, check out their tour dates or join their mailing list.