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  • Denise Gonzales Crisp on Kali Nikitas and others

    People who believe in so-called natural talent tend not to recognize or engage me. I like to believe those who see talent as vulnerability manifested in peculiarity cloaked in normalcy are those who have been my advocates.

    Clive Piercy was the first designer I sought out because of work I'd seen published. He ended up hiring me six months later as a freelancer at PhD and I worked in that capacity for over two years. Funny thing is my design hardly ever got produced! I loved it there though, learned much about a design-driven business (my experience prior to that had been business-driven design). I learned good taste from Clive. And a respectable work ethic (tea at four, no absurdly long hours and never work on weekends). I learned that good design needs time to develop.

    Kali Nikitas is a hero friend. We met in Holland in 1993: I had taken a month from teaching and working at PhD to study with the DeProgram in Rotterdam and she was doing an internship there. She knew the faculty directors and so met up with us at dinners and studio visits. She was amazing, aggressively stylish and gregarious, instantly intimate—not the kind of person I typically connect with. I had never met anyone like her (in fact I figured she was too cool for me!) yet she reached out and we have been in each other's lives ever since.

    Kali came to L.A. to visit the following summer, 1994. She stayed with me and dragged me around town (actually, I drove) to meet people like April Greiman (hero) and Lorraine Wild (hero) and other influential talents such as Somi Kim and Mr. Keedy and Caryn Aono and Henk Elenga, to name a few. All designers whose work I knew and admired. During the week's stay she got into a parking lot accident in my car that wrecked the fender. I believe the coalescence of all these events fused our future as great friends and colleagues.

    It was the month in Holland working in studio and hanging out with people such as Linda van Deursen, Armin Mevis, Rob Schroeder, Prof. Oxenaar and Dawn Barrett that changed my design life. They all noticed something of value in me and my work. And of course meeting Kali there. Our discussions led me to follow through on a secret desire to attend graduate school at CalArts. It turned out at she was an alumna and confirmed that it was there that I had to go. I enrolled in September of 1994.

    Though Kali graduated six years before I did, she has become the little sister (otherwise I have no siblings) who keeps me honest. It's been inspiring to watch her mature in her work and progress from being faculty at the Chicago Art Institute to Department Chair at Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Other sisters have emerged since my time as a student and teacher at CalArts, in particular Louise Sandhaus, Anne Burdick and Gail Swanlund. And an important aspect of my professional relationships are those I have had the privilege of supporting, former students Jon Sueda, Carla Figueroa, Ethan Glandstone and Yasmin Khan.

    I can't depart this exercise without acknowledging the one non-designer who has had the most influence on my design life because of his belief in my talent (though I like to tease that he doesn't know from talent): my husband John Hartzog.

    Denise Gonzales Crisp
    Department Chair, Graphic Design
    College of Design
    North Carolina State University

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