Professor of Art Joe Madrigal gives lecture on sabbatical art exhibition


Mound-builder (attaboy) courtesy of Joe Madrigal

On Wednesday, September 22, students and faculty gathered in the Center For the Arts’ 

Wigley-Fleming Gallery to witness the unveiling of Associate Professor of Art Joe Madrigal’s sabbatical project. The unveiling of the 12 pieces was accompanied by a lecture from Madrigal. 


Titled “In Memory of a Dream: A Pattern Language,” Madrigal’s exhibition is centered around memories of his childhood in California. Madrigal’s original sabbatical proposal stated his intentions to go to his childhood home and capture the personal landmarks of his early life. Madrigal shared that he wanted to explore his heritage and familial history, creating works that reflected his identity.


“[I was] thinking about the lineage of the people who raised me, or the people that I’ve come from,” Madrigal said. “I wanted to tie it back into my own heritage, also thinking about my mom’s background, and having Portuguese immigrants through her grandparents.”


COVID-19 changed Madrigal’s plans and he adapted to completing his sabbatical in Decorah, examining and creating art inspired by photographs of his own childhood and that of his mother. He provided details about his creative process, including walking around Decorah and collecting flowers that would later be pressed and incorporated into the art of his family and childhood. Madrigal discussed the importance of stories — familial, personal, myths, legends, fairytales — and the impact they have on our human experiences. He spoke of the influence his favorite childhood stories had on one of his works. The particular piece included a Winnie the Pooh book and a stack of doilies with a pea underneath alluding to The Princess and the Pea. 


“It’s a snapshot of childhood as the child is entering the responsibility of being a young adult,” Madrigal said. “It very much mirrors this vignette, these seven years of my life.” 


Much of Madrigal’s art includes hand-crafted ceramic items. Additionally, he repeatedly used a concept consisting of an image stretched out on a long thin piece of washi paper. It is mounted to the wall with ceramic, and it hangs alongside a related item. In a picture of him and his father in their yard, Madrigal features a ceramic plum, referring to the plum tree in their neighbors backyard. The piece’s title, “aplomb,” describes the pride felt in regards to something, referencing his family featured in the picture, but is also a play on words meant to replicate the sound of “a plum.” Six of the twelve artworks by Madrigal feature this structure, which creates cohesion amongst the pieces while maintaining their singular and unique identities. 


Penelope Onsrud  (‘23) and Alison Breen (‘23), audience members at Wednesday night’s lecture on the artwork, were struck by the realistic quality of the everyday items made out of ceramic.


“I really liked the one called ‘#2,’ the picture of his sister with the food tray and pencil,” Onsrud said. “It was very interesting, the print of the wallpaper leading from it, I thought that was very cool.


Madrigal opened his artistic space by creating works that make audiences think. They recognize the familiar objects, question the importance of or the intention behind its inclusion, and sometimes even connect it back to their own lives.


“It makes you want to ask questions about how he made these things,” Breen said. “I liked the one called ‘Tidbits,’ just because I have a previous attraction to tiny things.”


That sort of self-reflection was Madrigal’s aim for this exhibition, promoting inquisitivity and reflection on even the most mundane of objects.


“I want them to take away that sense of wonder or noticing something particular, something that’s familiar,” Madrigal said. “We still want to be caught up in wonder, and sometimes the simplest can evoke that.” 


Madrigal’s sabbatical artwork is on presentation in the Wigley-Fleming Gallery until December 17.