In Memory of Gui Ignon
1897 – 1963
Works of art endure, unchanged, for a long time, sometimes forever. But the making of artists is an ongoing process of renewal and regeneration — the unending need to bolster newcomers just starting out on their quests.
That’s the underlying zeitgeist of the annual Gui Ignon Memorial Young Artists Show, a juried exhibition designed to celebrate new and emerging artists. Youth may hover in its atmosphere, but, poignantly, the creators of this endeavor themselves boast long, rich histories together, dating in one sense all the way back to post-World War I Paris–one of the most exciting artistic conflations of the 20th Century.
“It’s an exhibit designed to show off young people’s art, and, more recently, not just young people, but also those who are students at the Create Center,” says Roger Ignon, who, along with his wife, Jacqueline, provide the key financial support to the project. “To show everyone in the Coachella Valley what these young artists are doing and support them in that effort.”
To honor, in other words, the very act of artistic expression. “What Create is doing gives people a wonderful opportunity to come in and participate in art,” Jacqueline Ignon says. She adds, in what might serve also as a testament to the annual exhibition, “Create fills a niche that needs to be filled.”
The program was actually the brainchild of a third participant, Don Porter, an artist himself and, it turns out, someone who has known Roger for decades, going back to their shared days in the 1950s as youngsters and students of Roger’s late father, Gui. The exhibition honors Gui’s memory.
“If he had not mentored me and saw that I had something worthwhile, I wouldn’t be an artist today,” Porter puts it. “I was promoted by him as a student. This is my way of carrying on that legacy.”
Roger Ignon and Porter met as youngsters while studying with Gui in Ojai. They went their separate ways, but reunited about 10 years ago when the Ignons bought a home in the valley area, where Porter is also a resident. “The stars aligned,” Roger says. Four years ago, Porter conceived the exhibition, first as a project in Palm Springs, but he and the Ignons wound up collaborating with Debra Ann Mumm, Create’s founder and executive director.
“Art activities are sadly being diminished in school systems everywhere today,” Mumm says. “We are here to inspire and encourage not just the young but everyone to interact and share with us their gifts.”
Gui Ignon’s story is iconic, both in terms of art and 20th-Century political currents. A Frenchman and young man during World War I, he found himself arrested by Germans and jailed in a cell next to Edith Cavell, a nurse famously executed for helping Allied soldiers escape Belgium during the war. Afterwards, Gui spent time studying art in Paris, where his acquaintances included Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Man Ray. Man Ray, in fact, later in Ojai left behind a signed photograph of Roger’s dad.
Gui emigrated to America, lived in New York and Washington, D.C. and traveled the U.S. sketching Americans during the Depression. He served as an advisor to a film about Cavell, and wound up in Hollywood for many years, eventually teaching at Ojai. Porter was a student there when he was ages 13 through 18.
Today the exhibit that honors him awards artists in various categories, such as originality and composition. First, Second and Third place are awarded in each, along with an overall Best in Show, each winner receiving a financial stipend for his or her effort.
One favorite memory of Porter involves an early winner, a young woman who painted a subject giving the finger to the viewer, a brash and somewhat controversial image. But what appealed to Porter was the juxtaposition of the feisty pose and the style. “It was beautifully done, the expression on her face so pretty,” he recalls. “I was eager to meet her, expecting a no-holds-barred feminist, but she turned out to be this unassuming, shy type, no taller than 5 feet and not someone you’d expect to paint that.” The mystery, complexity and surprise that is art in a single entry.
Mumm herself boasts her own history in a similar contest and knows what it can mean to the aspiring artist. After a difficult period in her personal life, she returned to school, entered a contest at the Palm Springs Art Museum–and won. That work, a suitcase packed with revealing personal data, is now part of the museum’s collection.
In the end, the project is not just about art, but about inspiration and the creative spirit, the virtue of cross-pollination, the nurturing of the artistic impulse in anyone and everyone. Even participants who never become artists may benefit. Roger became an entrepreneur and inventor, Jacqueline a landscape architect and Porter an architect as well as an artist. Math and science underlie their work, too.
“We love art and want to do more for it,” Roger says. “But we want to enable others to exercise their imaginations. Maybe they’re interested in math or maybe they aren’t. But art helps all of us to open up our minds and do things.”