An enchanting exhibit

A definition of alchemy is magically transmuting a common substance into something of greater value. Cuesta College students have used their talent, newfound knowledge and various art media to accomplish just that in the “Alchemical Laboratory.’’

The annual juried art exhibit features work by 45 students, with Best of Show paying $350 and nine other categories giving $150 each.Engineering student Joseph Salazar nabbed two awards from his three entries.

For Salazar, art is just for fun, he said. “I don't know if I could make a career out of it.”

Salazar used nail polish, acrylic, ink, pencil, and oil pastels for his painting “If I Forget” that earned him Best of Show. He used Wite Out to scrawl over the painting: “If I forget, will I regret what I forgot? Probably not.”

One thing Salazar recalls from childhood is a fantasy of living on tiny floating islands. What appear to be jelly-fish-like images in his painting represent these islands, said Salazar, who enjoys hearing interpretations of his art.

Although many viewers see extra terrestrials in this work, Salazar said the central figure is an angel, whose wings are lighter weight than those in classical paintings, with the musculature to allow flight.

His winning print, a linoleum cut, “Surrogate Childhood,” shows a waiflike girl, skirt lifted, seemingly to shield her black dog from the rain. It looks innocent, like a woodcut from an old storybook, but that wasn't the artist’s intent.

“It's supposed to be like a disturbing image,” said Salazar, who is concerned about pop culture messages to young girls about being skinny and attractive, fearing it will lead to anorexia.

Hannah Slobodnik, whose untitled coil container earned Best Ceramics, started working with clay at Cuesta seven years ago. She intended it to be temporary, physical therapy for a hand she injured doing construction work.

“I got kind of obsessed with it,” she said, even after working with clay strengthened her hand. Although she never had any urge to attend college, taking ceramics and music classes have put her on a path to higher education. She plans to enroll at UC Santa Cruz or Mills College.

Other awards selected by juror Cliff Benjamin of Western Project Gallery in Southern California include Jeremy Ketz’s “New York 1942,” which took Best Mixed Media. The freestanding tower incorporates various images, including a big red apple, a nod to the city’s nickname. It rests atop a mousetrap, followed by a dollar bill, a bigger-than-life copper penny, a woman in fashionable 1942 clothes, and other icons.

Additional awards went to Pearl Sturtevant. Her “Julian,” a child with a curly mustache, earned Best Drawing. Best Sculpture was given to Christina Howarter for a cluster of animal-like figures, “Clock and Wolf Morph.”

Savannah Holt took Best Painting for an untitled two-paneled work; Patrick Orr’s “Phoenix” won Best Graphic Design. Best Digital went to Alex Vuong for “Well, That’s Life,” and Will Headly won Best Photography for a series of five side-by-side Polaroid shots titled “One Way, Up or Down.”