Art & art history professors Linda Lyke and Linda Besemer said they are stepping out of the classroom to focus more on their art. Appointed to Occidental in 1976, Lyke teaches printmaking classes, while Besemer, appointed to Occidental in 1987, teaches painting and drawing.
Besemer said being at Occidental allowed exchanges of ideas with colleagues across disciplines, something she said is less likely at bigger institutions. A close-knit campus facilitated the revamping of the Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies department, according to Besemer.
“When I first came here, the women’s studies program was floundering, and so a group of us tried to update it a little bit,” Besemer said. “I got to know people from the sciences to history, sociology — almost everybody in humanities contributed to women’s studies. It was fun.”
Tucker Neel ’03, assistant professor in communications at the Otis College of Art and Design, majored in art history and visual arts at Occidental as an undergraduate. Neel said he took many painting courses with Besemer, and he credits them as one of the most impactful people he has so far met in life. Neel said the first week of classes Bessemer asked him to be their TA, which involved organizing, photocopying and working in Bessemer’s studio.
“[Working in their studio] was the most mind-blowing and fun thing imaginable,” Neel said. “After that first week, I was like, ‘I will do whatever it takes.'”
In a 2019 exhibition, “An Abundance of Errors,” Besemer hand-painted moments of digital glitches. Besemer has also experimented with three-dimensional paintings that bring a vivid mixture of colors and sculptural qualities that vary depending on the angle of view. A selection of Besemer’s work over the past three decades is now on exhibition at the Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum in California State University, Long Beach (CSULB).
Lyke said she traversed many different disciplines while at Occidental. She was involved in the athletics department as a faculty mentor to the men and women’s tennis teams as well as a faculty athletic representative. Lyke said she was involved in drawing projects with the Moore Lab of Zoology, and she was also recently the recipient of a MacArthur grant to study megafauna in Kenya. Lyke said she has found Occidental to be a fantastic place to work, and has developed an appreciation for the college’s staff.
“I love knowing Campus Safety, knowing everybody in the food service, everyone working on the ground. Those are my favorite people,” Lyke said. “They’re there with the students all the time, and they’re really trying to keep the campus the way it should be.”
Lyke said she has had the opportunity to further her practice in printmaking by traveling abroad to places like Belfast, Melbourne and Newfoundland during sabbaticals. Sometimes, Lyke said, these international trips help her reconnect with old students.
“I had a student, John Wells, who went to Japan to become a potter for a sensei,” Lyke said. “I had another student later, Sarah Paris, and she and I had a grant to go to Japan and study paper making in Japanese villages. Wells introduced us to his sensei, and we had an amazing time together.”
Neel said he took a printmaking class with Lyke, and he very much liked her laid-back style of teaching.
“She gave a lot of permission — she let people explore whatever they wanted to and she wasn’t prescriptive,” Neel said. “I remember we haven’t used the silkscreen studio for a while and she was more than happy to open that up and let us go crazy with it.”
According to Amy Lyford, department chair and professor in the art & art history department, Occidental is in the process of hiring to fill both professors’ absences. So far, the department has hired interdisciplinary artist Jose Sanchez to teach Besemer’s painting and drawing lessons, and is still looking for an individual to fill Lyke’s post.
“We will miss them very much,” Lyford said. “Between the two of them, they really built our studio arts program.”
This article was edited at 8:38 p.m. April 18 to remove incorrect identifying information about the person who will fill Besemer’s position, and to add that Jose Sanchez is an interdisciplinary artist.