March 3 2014 08:10 PM

San Diego artist and professor leaves behind impactful art and a standout approach to education

seenlocalforweb
Ernest Silva
Photo by Monica Nouwens

Ernest Silva's Facebook page has been transformed into an emotional online memorial. The artist died last week, and the page has since been filling up with comments posted by students, colleagues, fans and others who've been touched by the internationally known painter and sculptor.

"Ernie was a celebrated and distinctive artist, to be sure, but he was also a warm, generous man," writes John Menier, a friend and colleague. "He had that admirable quality of taking his work seriously but not himself, as evidenced by his sly sense of humor and lack of pretension. Ernie's passing is a profound loss..."

Silva, 65, was found dead in his home on Feb. 24. According to the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office, suicide was the cause. Several friends say Silva was struggling with Parkinson's disease, which made his hands tremble visibly.

One of Silva's greatest legacies is "The Rain House," the immersive permanent installation at the New Children's Museum that invites families to climb inside the artistic playhouse and enjoy vivid imagery and a larger-than-life floor puzzle while rain from a sprinkler patters down onto the corrugated roof. The original version of the piece was on view in the first iteration of the Children's Museum and was brought back by popular demand. It has since achieved local-art-icon status.

"'The Rain House' is really accessible," says longtime local art critic Robert Pincus, who describes Silva's artwork as "visual poetry" in an online tribute on Culture Buzz. "I think his ability was to see the different ways in which he could evoke his feelings as a visual metaphor. The house is like a walk-in metaphor... It's so unrealistic, and yet it's so real."

A professor emeritus in the UCSD Department of Visual Arts, Silva joined the school in 1979 and retired in July 2013. While he enjoyed many notable worldwide exhibitions and was one of the original creators of inSITE, a binational arts exhibition in San Diego and Tijuana, one of his most lasting impacts has been on his students.

"If anyone was more suited to guide young artists back out into the real world, I haven't met him or her yet," says former student Louis M. Schmidt.

Another former student, Jewel Castro, says Silva was extraordinarily generous with his time and always willing to talk to his students at length and in person.

"I loved that he was approachable, accessible and generous with perspectives about the process of art-making," Castro says. "He had an edgy quietness about him but also was quick to laugh."

A public memorial for Silva will be held in the Atkinson Pavilion of the Faculty Club at UCSD at 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 4.

"The Rain House" by Ernest Silva
Photo by Kinsee Morlan

Write to editor@sdcitybeat.com and follow Kinsee on Facebook or Twitter 

Calendar

  • Visit one of the 70 participating restaurants, bars, coffeehouses and nightclubs in town on this night and 25 to 50 percent of sales will go to local HIV/AIDS services and prevention programs. 
  • Anthony Bernal and Chris Ward, who are vying to replace Todd Gloria on the San Diego City Council, will discuss urban issues, such as parking, homelessness and new developments
  • The new exhibition designed by Dave Ghilarducci is made from hundreds of rolls of packing tape and bound together by layers of plastic shrink-wrap. Visitors can navigate their way through cocoon-like passageways...
  • The renowned Mexican black and white photographer presents an exhibition exploring the principal themes within three groups: "Bestiarium"," Fantastic Women" and "Silent Natures."
  • Presented by Pacific Arts Movement, the sixth annual mini film fest features 14 film programs from 10 countries that includes everything from docs to romantic tearjerkers. See website for full lineup and...
  • The San Diego County Bike Coalition hosts this monthly bike-in happy hour event to get biking residents involved in their communities and discuss bike projects planned for that specific community
  • Debunk some of the stereotypes surrounding cannibalism at this new exhibition that takes a hands-on approach to the subject. Includes video games and interactive activities where patrons will have to decide...
  • So Say We All's monthly storytelling night features stories about those jobs we took because we had to take a job. Featured readers include Allison Gauss, Annmarie Houghtailing, Cecile Estelle, and more
  • Artists from the all-abstracts group show will talk about their work and techniques. Artists include Edwin Nutting, Danielle Nelisse, Leah Pantea, Lenore Simon, and more
See all events on Thursday, Apr 28