Logo: University of Southern California

The Artistic Side of Engineering

Viterbi School undergraduates and faculty show off their artistic talents during the second annual spring art festival, sponsored by the Klein Institute

April 05, 2008 — Vincent van Gogh, move over! USC’s engineering students and faculty may be just as artistically inclined as the 19th century Dutch post-impressionist painter.  
Portrait of a farmworker by Joe Devinny, left, and woman in reflection by Leslie Nguyen, BSCS '08, right. 

All of them got a chance to show off some of their right-brain skills in art, film and music during the Viterbi School’s second annual KIUEL SHOWCASE, held March 31 – April 2 in the Viterbi Museum.

The program, sponsored by the Klein Institute for Undergraduate Engineering Life (KIUEL), was designed to enrich the undergraduate engineering curriculum by giving students creative outlets outside of the classroom.  This year, KIUEL SHOWCASE was also open to  Viterbi faculty.

During three days of exhibition, people were able to admire paintings, photographs, a hand-sewn costume dress, decorative, ornate wooden pieces and other works of art — all created by Viterbi engineering faculty and students. 

Among many items on display were two handcrafted decorative containers made by Joe Devinny, professor of environmental engineering in the Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.  The vase was made of juniper and purpleheart wood while the jewelry box was made of walnut and maple.  Devinny decorated the top of the jewelry box with a red butterfly, made of partially melted glass, which he cut into shapes. 

Devinny was also showing some of his paintings, which he sometimes exhibits in local art shows.  "Campesino," an acrylic painting using vivid colors, depicts an Hispanic farmworker with ambylopia (“lazy eye”), which Devinny said gives his subject a particularly riveting appearance.   
Wooden jewelry box by Joe Devinny.
Shirin Nikaein, BSEE '08, and the "Blood Red Dress" from Lord of the Rings sequel.

Shirin Nikaein, a senior electrical engineering major, displayed one of her hand-sewn dresses, “Blood Red Dress,” a simplified version of Arwen’s blood red dress in The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King film.

Nikaein said it took about a month to create the dress pattern from scratch and sew an assortment of materials together, but she completed it in October 2003, just two months before Return of the King was released.  

Geza Bottlik, a professor of industrial and systems engineering, showed his "triptychs," which are three-paneled paintings usually carved from wood.  His circle and square triptychs were inspired by "realizing that Albers' Homage to the Square had equal areas for all the squares...so mine have equal areas for the circles and squares," he explained.  The colors were also carefully selected and the designs created in Fireworks. 
Turned wood vessel by Joe Devinny.

Other Viterbi School artists included Leslie Nguyen (BSCS ’08), Mona Kamal (BSCE ’09), Jeannette Chang (BSEE ’10), Rebecca Blasdell (BSEE '08) and Michael Webb (BSEE '10.). 

In her painting, "Cartoon," which won an award for "most inspired," Nguyen said she was exploring identity and self-image.

"This is a self-portrait of the cartoon me," she said.  "Sometimes I wish reality was more like the cartoons on TV, care-free and lacking in consequences.  [But] life is filled with hard decisions that have consequences that carry on longer than just one episode. Not everything will be resolved in the end.

"My interest is with portraits, because there is so much emotion conveyed in the face," added Nguyen, who will earn a "progressive degree" — both a B.S. and an M.S. — in computer science in May.

“The response to SHOWCASE has been positive,” added Kate Baxter, director of Student Support Programs in the Admission and Student Affairs Office. “People are always amazed at the high quality and great talent of many of our faculty and students.” 

Torey Raphael, a junior in aerospace engineering, admires the photography displays in the museum.
The program was expanded this year to include film and music, Baxter said.  On opening night, participants attended a “Meet the Artist” reception, which included refreshments and a musical performance by guitarist Christian Salmeron, a senior industrial and systems engineering major. Salmeron serenaded people going up the stairs and into the Viterbi Museum on the second floor of Tutor Hall.  There, viewers saw student and faculty paintings and other decorative pieces interspersed throughout the museum.  They were encouraged to cast a "People's Choice" vote for their favorite artists on the way out.  Meanwhile, an independent Viterbi School KIUEL Advisory Board of judges also voted and selected winners in several categories.

The winners were: “Turned Wooden Vessel,” by Joe Devinny, for best technique; "Who Am I? Trans Identity in Los Angeles," by Julianne Gale, and "Campesino," by Joe Devinny, for most creative;   “Cartoon,” by Leslie Nguyen, for most inspired; and "Childhood Memories," by Leslie Nguyen, for the people's choice.  
"Cartoon," a self-portrait by Leslie Nguyen, BSCS ’08.

In addition to Salmeron, music was provided by Olivia Lu-Hill, a sophomore majoring in biomedical engineering, and Tyler Wolf, a junior majoring in electrical engineering. Senior computer science major Julianne Gale wrote and produced the film playing continuously in the Viterbi Museum.    

The KIUEL Institute is funded by Viterbi School alumnus Ken Klein (BS BMEE ‘82) and supports a variety of undergraduate programs and activities outside of engineering.