Stark shades of terracotta, purple, and turquoise harmonize behind the ceramic shine. Images of political turmoil and world-changing actions push through the glaze of Kristy Moreno’s ceramic and print work—piquing viewers’ thoughts and intrigue.

Moreno has always known her creativity was meant for great things.

“I want people to see themselves in these characters that I create and to come away with some understanding of someone else’s reality,” she explains. “I want to give them a space to reflect. It is very easy to shut people out because of their race, class, gender, and every other difference we can identify in others.”

The art studio major recalls growing up watching her father work with machines and sketching, always using his hands. Her mother is a photographer and now has boxes and boxes filled with frozen moments. Moreno always knew she too was a creator, but she struggled to unearth her own artistic voice. 

It wasn’t until a high school teacher asked her to paint a school mural that she began seriously pursuing art. However, following her passions to college was not on Moreno’s scope of possibilities by high school graduation. As a first-generation student, she felt attending a university or a community college was not accessible or even possible. 

Instead, she joined art collectives where she committed to sharpening her talents and discovering herself as an artist. Moreno immersed herself into the art culture of her hometown of Inglewood, and absorbed all the influences it had to offer. Then in 2011 a friend encouraged Moreno to enroll in a watercolor class and a ceramic class at her local community college. From there, her fate as a professional artist was sealed. 

As she prepares to graduate from Chico State this week with a degree in studio arts with a concentration in ceramics, her ceramic and print work are known to challenge the onlooker, drawing attention and recognition from around the country for her unique style.

This month, Moreno was awarded a Windgate Lamar Fellowship from the Center for Craft for 2021, a prestigious national award credited to students for their artistic merit and contributions to their craft. Moreno’s art fulfills the organization’s values of critical thinking, thoughtful creating, and ambitious research. 

She will be using the Fellowship’s $15,000 award to pay for art residencies around the country, an opportunity that she could not otherwise afford. This year alone, Moreno will attend residencies at the Archie Bray Foundation and the Flower City Arts Center, and will be visiting the Anderson Ranch Arts Center for workshops. All three residencies—an opportunity seldom given to undergraduates—offer artists time to immerse in creation with students from around the world and Moreno the chance to further her craft. 

Kristy poses with some of her ceramic pieces.
Moreno found her artistic passion in creating ceramic arts that make a statement. (Photo courtesy of Frank Martinez)

Ceramics professor Cameron Crawford is not at all surprised to see such remarkable success, as he recognized Moreno’s talents four years ago at a ceramics convention at University of California, Davis. Crawford invited her to tour Chico State and meet other faculty and students, making her decision to choose Chico an easy one. 

“I instantly felt a strong sense of community and knew that it was a great fit for me,” says Moreno. “I had people open their homes to me and take the time to show me around the University. That was a kind of community I had never experienced before. It was rare.”

In return, she has worked to bridge the gap between the artists of Chico State and the artists of her community—creating spaces for fellowship, growth, and connection with others.

Among numerous on-campus events, in 2019 Moreno orchestrated Zine Fest that was primarily hosted at the Blackbird cafe. Zine Fest is open to local artists to share their self-published mini magazines, showcasing talents such as printmaking, block printing, poetry, graphic design, and sketches. In summer 2020, COVID-19 inspired her to start the ongoing event Yart Sale, where artists can bring their artwork to selected front yards to sell and to support fellow local artists.

“Kristy is a natural leader,” said Crawford. “She was invaluable in the implementation of extra-curricular learning opportunities—field trips to the Crocker Art Museum, bringing visiting artists to campus, organizing student art exhibitions, and putting on fundraisers to help students travel to conferences.” 

As she leans into her personal style, Moreno’s work mirrors the aesthetic of Southern California’s punk and graffiti scenes from her childhood hometown. Each creation is full of color, layers, and mismatched harmony. 

“I was always drawn to these subcultures because it was a space where people could express themselves and not be turned away,” Moreno said. “It was always a loving space where you could be free to create.”

Today, Moreno’s work aims to visually and physically embody her observations of the world. As she explains, her art is her thoughts made physical from studying society, and reflects her reactions to the injustices brought to light—especially social issues highlighted in 2020.

“Ceramics and sculpture, as well as printmaking techniques, have always been integral in Moreno’s focus on community issues,” says Susan Whitmore, one of Moreno’s first studio arts professors at Chico State. “She is outgoing and supportive of various organizations and has integrated the making of her work in various ways such as short workshops and fundraising.”

One of Moreno's sculptures includes drawings and the phrases "abolish the police" and "protect womxn"
Moreno’s ceramic wall piece Decolonize features screen print, photography, sketches, and paint elements. (Photo courtesy of Angelea Heartsong)

One of Moreno’s favorite pieces, Decolonize, illustrates the subcultural influences and social issues that she draws upon. The colorful ceramic wall piece embodies Moreno’s unique style of layering different media—transforming photographs into screen prints, then transferring the results onto ceramic.

From sculpting with her own hands like her father to photographing the world around her like her mother, Moreno transforms the world around her into tangible emotion. Her ultimate dream is to unite her passions and open a community printmaking and ceramics studio so that she can pass on her knowledge and spark talents in future generations.

“Moreno’s focus on community in both studio spirit and camaraderie, as well as local and world events, has provided Chico State students an example of someone who is making a change with the clay and print work that she creates,” Whitmore said.