Project Statements, Reviews, and other Writing

California State Senate Contemporary Art Collection, 2013-14 Exhibition, catalog excerpt

Verge I & Verge III

Selected by Senator Jim Beall (SD15)

Loan courtesy of the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art


During his residency at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Print Center, Covarrubias responded to his site-specific installation at the ICA gallery, Liminal.  Composed of suspended layers of tracing paper, Liminal dramatically altered the architecture of the gallery. To make his series of prints, he dipped tracing paper in acid and applied it directly to the plate, in order to etch the surface of the plate.  The resulting images capture the sense of transparency and light of the original installation while exploring the alchemy and elements of surprise inherent in printmaking.

Home Body Drawings in SJICA Auction 2013

Home Body Drawings


From the ICA e-newsletter "Curator's Picks" by Donna Napper, curator at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art in regard to the 2013 Auction where two drawings from the Home Body series were featured.  September 5, 2013:

"Modesto Covarrubias is a multi-disciplinary artist whose oeuvre includes drawings, paintings, prints, sculpture, installation, photography, and performance art. Covarrubias' two elegant ink drawings intrigue me, with their curious forms made of dense networks of lines coalescing into solid yet abstracted masses.

The imagery first appears to be a cocoon or part of knitted clothing. The actual inspiration for these drawings (from the Home Body series), originated from the artist's visit to the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. What Covarrubias observed there, and was later haunted by in dreams, was the collection of taxidermy birds, tagged and displayed in one drawer, while the birds' nests were fully intact and displayed in a separate drawer. This inspired the artist to contemplate the human need to create surroundings which offer comfort and protection, and further explore ideas about connections - between home and body, between creation and creator, and between the need to make or build and the need to preserve."

Curatorial Statement:

Paper Work:  When Paper Becomes Art

February 2–April 28, 2013

The exhibition Paper Work at the Oakland International Airport (OAK) highlights six Bay Area artists who work with paper. For some artists, paper is their primary medium. Others see paper as one of the many materials from which they choose to make their artworks.

Though the artists all share in the use of paper, each has their own vision and approach. Monica Canilao presents an intuitively composed paper quilt, which partly contains found paper and photographs from her recent stay in Detroit. Multidisciplinary artist Modesto Covarrubias reflects upon the light and structure of the space in his site-specific paper installation. Using recycled paper, Bianca Kolonusz-Partee fashions collages of international ports. For Goran Konjevod, paper is essential to his origami practice, designing extraordinarily complex and geometric shapes. Originally from Mongolia, Turburam Sandagdorj specializes in paper cut outs, typically creating images of his native land. Hadley Williams’s compositions aim to instill commercial paper products with more bodily and organic qualities.

While technology is shifting everything toward a digital and paper-less world, the artists in Paper Work still find value in the hands-on manipulation of paper, and infusing this age-old material with new meanings.

A selection of photographs also explores the artists’ working space as a sanctuary for the development of creative ideas and techniques.

—  Anthony Pinata, Guest Curator, Oakland Museum of California

February 2013

Paper Work is located in three areas of Oakland International Airport. The exhibit sites are located in Terminal 2 between gates 25 and 26, in Terminal 1 before the security checkpoint and in the connecting walkway between the two terminals.


An artist’s space serves as a sanctuary that allows for quiet focus on the development of creative ideas and techniques. Artists may choose a separate place for their creative activity. However, many are comfortable working at home, as seen in several of these photographs.

Monica Canilao’s Oakland studio is filled from floor to ceiling with found objects and relics from travels, which she uses to create her artworks. In many ways her studio mirrors the imagery of her artwork. Modesto Covarrubias’s Oakland studio has an almost glowing, natural light during the day, ideal for his subtle work with tracing paper. Bianca Kolonusz-Partee, surrounded by waterways and thick forests in Guerneville, reflects upon the environmental impact of the shipping industry as she observes images of international seaports on her computer. Goran Konjevod has an area at home dedicated to his origami practice, which is also equipped with a stereo so he can listen to music as he works. Like many artists, there are numerous examples of his work scattered throughout the space. Turburam Sandagdorj also works at home. He has an area with a desk where he can place his paper and his handful of tools, mostly basic three- to four-inch length scissors. Hadley Williams’s Berkeley studio doubles as an exhibition space—all the walls are neatly aligned with recent works.

Not all artists require such private studios, especially if their art is about engaging with the public, but many prefer to have some peaceful place where they can work uninterrupted.

Anthony Pinata, Guest Curator, Oakland Museum of California

February 2013

Paper Work

2002 - present
Courtesy of the artist

Multidisciplinary artist Modesto Covarrubias's education started in architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, though his interests eventually veered toward the fine arts.  He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in photography from the San Francisco Art Institute and a Master of Fine Arts in studio art from Mills College.  However, it was in architecture school that he became familiar with the tracing paper that would later become an integral part of his installation work.


Sketchbooks are always a part of Covarrubias’s process. Not all artists use them, especially in the age of the iPad, but for him they are important; they document his thought process and development as an artist. The books are filled with small paintings, to-do lists, and stickers and tickets from museum visits.

Sketchbooks on display at the Oakland International Airport, 2012.

Display case in Terminal 1 breezeway at the Oakland International Airport.  A selection of Modesto Covarrubias's sketchbooks on display above Bumps XVII (53 sculpture units), 2011, an original artwork by Hadley Williams


Corner Piece 1 (on the right) with 2 HOME BODY drawings. Gallery 555, Oakland, CA. August 2009

Modesto Covarrubias & Benicia Gantner at Gallery 555

Curatorial Statement


Through the alchemy of the artistic process, a simple material can express an idea beyond its recognized or practical use. This point is illustrated in the artwork of Modesto Covarrubias and Benicia Gantner in very different ways. 


Covarrubias investigates our physical and psychological connection to our environments.  The very basic material of paper is transformed into an experience of space, light, and sound. While this installation responds to the architecture of the site, it also creates space for and about internal reflection – a contemplative sanctuary made specifically for a very public area.  In this way, the physical presence or absence of the audience is as important to the piece as the sculptural elements. These ideas are reflected in the drawings and salt sculptures as well, though on a different scale.


Gantner’s work poses the question of what is real and what is imagined. Her paintings on panel and the interior glass wall installation are made with adhesive-backed vinyl. This is a common industrial material used for commercial signage. Gantner’s highly stylized, archetypical organic forms capitalize on the synthetic quality of the vinyl. The saturated color of the material and strong graphic sensibility of the paintings present a view of nature that is imaginary.

These idealized landscapes offer viewers an external space for contemplation and discovery.


Through their unique artistic voices, Covarrubias and Gantner transform the ordinary into the extraordinary and in so doing, create tangible expressions of complex ideas about individual consciousness and the world we live in.


- Carin Adams, Associate Curator

August 2009

Organized by the Professional Services Division of the Oakland Museum of California