(Santa Ana, CA) - On Wednesday, September 13 from 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., Santa Ana College (SAC) will host an opening reception for “Air Becomes Breath,” an installation by artist Richard Turner. He is a professor emeritus at Chapman University where he taught Asian art history and studio art and co-directed the Guggenheim Gallery.
The exhibit will run through Thursday, November 9 in the Santa Ana College Main Art Gallery, located in the Fine Arts Building “C” on the campus at 1530 W. 17th St. in Santa Ana. Gallery hours are: Monday - Thursday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and Wednesday evenings from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
When Turner’s wife Sylvia died from pancreatic cancer in May 2016, Richard experienced the dreadful moment “When Breath Becomes Air,” the title of the book by Paul Kalanithi that chronicles the author’s struggle with stage IV metastatic lung cancer. In September, just a year after Sylvia’s death, air propelled by fans throughout the gallery will become the breath that will animate black-and-white images of Sylvia’s clothing printed on long white silk banners.
“Clothes are made for living, breathing bodies. The black-and-white images of the clothing are expressions of absence and loss,” says Richard.
In an essay written by Los Angeles Times art writer Suzanne Muchnic for the exhibition catalog, Muchnic states, “Wearables left behind by loved ones also present difficult questions to bereaved survivors. Should the garments be parceled out to friends and family, given to a charity, creatively recycled or kept intact? The clothes themselves are infused with the essence of the person who wore them.”
Richard is no stranger to commemorative art. His first such piece, “The Book of the Disappeared” was installed in the SAC art gallery in 1984. Other memorials, both temporary and permanent, followed: “Reliquaries” (1986), “Memory’s Vault” (1988), “Anaheim Veterans Memorial” (1999), “See Angkor and Die” (2009), the “Japanese American Farmers Memorial” (2015) and several others
Creating “Air Becomes Breath” however, was different for Richard because it was the death of his wife of 48 years that he was commemorating rather than the lives and deaths of persons unknown to him. With that in mind, Richard enlisted the help of his daughters Adrienne and Jennifer as well as six of his wife’s friends to select the pieces of clothing that best exemplified her sense of style. From the 50 pieces that were photographed by Michael Farrel, a former student of Sylvia’s, they chose 14 images.
The garments selected range from formal attire to work clothes to informal wear. Among the selection are mother-of-the-bride dresses from her daughters’ weddings, dresses that she wore to work at Santa Ana College as dean of fine and performing arts, a dress that she took when traveling with Richard, and more. Each piece reflects the essence of Sylvia’s style.
Sylvia’s daughter Adrienne, vice president, comedy development Warner Bros Television, says, “As she transitioned from the dance studio to the Dean’s office in her professional life she wore much more of what I think of as her signature look, which was both easy and elegant….lots of loose fitting linen pants and tops, raw silk pieces, beautiful long sweaters and pashminas and sleeveless shifts to showcase her toned arms.”
Sylvia’s daughter Jennifer Brasile, an agent at Creative Artists Associates Sports, says, “My mother’s sense of style spoke volumes about who she was as a person – graceful, elegant and self-assured. She took great care in what she wore, but managed to look effortlessly chic all the same.”
Sylvia, who retired from Santa Ana College in July 2013, served as the college’s dean of fine and performing arts from 2008 to 2013. Prior to that, she served as SAC’s associate dean of fine and performing arts. During her tenure, she oversaw the construction of Santa Ana College’s Digital Media Center, the renovation of its art building, and the revision of over 250 courses. As SAC’s dance department chair, she gained statewide recognition for excellence in instruction, high quality productions, and students who excelled.
As a professional dancer, Sylvia performed in the United States and Japan, was a member of the Ann Arbor Dance Theater and the Gloria Newman Dance Company, and co-founded Connect 3, a multimedia dance ensemble. As an award-winning choreographer, her credits included choreographing for nationally competitive skaters, theatrical productions for South Coast Repertory and Disneyland’s “The Lion King Parade and Street Show,” and a collaborative work “Bullwhip Days,” based on slave narratives.
Sylvia received the 1995 Santa Ana College Distinguished Faculty Award and the 1996 Rancho Santiago Community College District Award of Excellence. In 2011, she received the Antioch College Walter F. Anderson Award, honoring college alumni for promoting racial and ethnic diversity. In Orange County, she was a member of the board of directors of Arts Orange County. She also served on the South Coast Repertory Education and Outreach Committee, the Santa Ana Arts Education Forum, the Santa Ana Council for Arts and Culture, the Orange County High School of the Arts Outreach Committee, and the Bowers Kidseum Advisory Committee.
For more information about “Air Becomes Breath,” contact the SAC Art Gallery by phone at (714) 564-5615 or visit
About Santa Ana College
Santa Ana College (SAC), which turned 100 years old in 2015, serves about 18,000 students each semester at its main campus in Santa Ana. The college prepares students for transfer to four-year institutions, provides invaluable workforce training, and customized training for business and industry. In addition, another 11,000 students are served through the college’s School of Continuing Education located at Centennial Education Center. Ranked as one of the nation’s top two-year colleges awarding associate degrees to Latino and Asian students, the college is also recognized throughout the state for its comprehensive workforce training programs for nurses, firefighters, law enforcement and other medical personnel. SAC is one of two comprehensive colleges under the auspices of the Rancho Santiago Community College District.
About Richard Turner
Artist/curator Richard Turner is a professor emeritus at Chapman University where he taught contemporary Asian art history and studio art. He lived in Saigon, Vietnam from 1959-1961. He studied Chinese painting and language in Taipei in 1963 - 1964 and Indian miniature painting in Jaipur, Rajasthan in 1967 - 1968 while on a Fulbright scholarship. As the director of Chapman University’s Guggenheim Gallery, he curated over seventy exhibitions. His current studio work is sculptures and drawings based on Chinese scholars’ rocks and Japanese viewing stones. He has worked as a public artist for over 30 years on projects ranging from metro stations, public parks and water treatment facilities to a justice center, veterans’ memorial and a university chapel. His most recent public work is “We Too Were Once Strangers,” a celebration of the heritage and achievement of the Japanese American farmers of Orange County. The memorial is located on land once cultivated by the immigrant farmers in Santa Ana, CA. Further examples of his work can be seen at
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