Spanning the globe, five California artists on their childhoods

Written by Staff Writer at CNN Los Angeles, Brooke Lea Foster

Five of the graduating seniors from the California Institute of the Arts in Pomona are world renowned for their extraordinary artworks — from colorful opera-length puppets to striped figures whose figures were apparently inspired by Japanese otaku. All were born in or around 1991.

The above timeline on the CICA website combines photos of the famous artists before and after they reached adulthood to highlight the generational difference between a generation of artists and the next.

For model Niki Borst, the differences were immediately clear.

“I was a kid running around full of youthful optimism and potential,” she told CNN. “Maybe there was something lacking in those early years, but I feel a sense of peace and fulfillment as a grown up now.”

IMAGE: A 2015 photo of Niki Borst as a teenager. Credit: John Polito/Instagram

As an adult, Borst found creative satisfaction in drawing and sewing clothes. She turned her tapestry sculptures into wearable art by sewing realistic-looking clothes around them and turning swatches of fabric into funny sewn-on scenes such as diner customers, aliens and trees.

“It’s a way to show my work on people and at times be my muse,” Borst said. “It’s a very loving relationship.”

As a kid, Borst was inspired by punk rock. Credit: John Polito/Instagram

Borst isn’t alone. Sophomore Caroline Williams is another artist who has successfully taken an interest in sketching and painting from a young age.

She remembers, at the age of three, exploring the world around her with colored markers and drawing with a rubber band. She eventually went on to draw horse heads and opera skirts in high school.

Williams said she liked drawing and painting a lot while she was growing up. “I felt like if I was to stop doing something and do something else that my art would stop and it wouldn’t have been as fulfilling.”

IMAGE: Caroline Williams’ show at Venice’s Biblioteca Gastronomica. Credit: Nicole Rivelli/ Instagram

She said at first she didn’t want to open up about having an artistic identity, but as she started to discover more and more about her own works, she decided it was OK to share.

“I’d see something — maybe it was a book or a piece of art — and it was very personal. There was so much I wanted to express and was inspired by. It was like a beacon for me.”

Williams now studies film at CICA — which she says has been “very inspiring” — and paints in her spare time.

“Even now when I see something and I’m struck by it, I don’t want to let it go.”

Richard Lempert, who graduated this year, said he never developed a fascination with drawing or paintings. His defining moment, he said, came in fourth grade when he discovered “French writing,” a classroom activity that required children to take notes and add values and quotes to a document.

“Writing in French felt like magic, like a momentary absence of just understanding it all and actually having it be all that much deeper,” Lempert said.

IMAGE: Richard Lempert’s piece “Dino Form” at the 2015 Venice Biennale. Credit: Alexandre Messier/Instagram

He went on to delve deeper, reading science and writing magazines and, ultimately, finding inspiration for his art in photography.

“The grand design of the experience and the concept has informed every little thing that has come since,” Lempert said.

“So far, my creativity has informed everything I’ve ever done. I can’t imagine my life without it.”

Like Borst and Williams, Lempert has discovered, at various stages of his life, several well-known artists.

This year, for instance, Lempert took a picture of Claude Monet’s painting, “Water Lilies.” He photographed the painting while it was being staged at the Grand Palais and then added textiles to the painting and a random object to give it a “lived-in feeling.”

“That will be something I’ll always remember, having to translate just the simplicity of the paint color … into such art.”

Both Borst and Lempert express a sense of wonder for their early years and for the world they are living in today.

“Everyone is connected to the world in a different way,” Borst said. “Because of that I love the world and wonder what could ever come next.”

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