‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ features sculptures made by former student

Media Credit: Courtesy of Jorge Vasquez

Jorge Vasquez, a former student in the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, created art that appears in the film "If Beale Street Could Talk."

A former student spent hours transforming a block of pinewood into an intricate sculpture for a class in the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design nearly five years ago. Now that same sculpture is being featured alongside some of the artist’s other work in a major motion picture.

Jorge Vascano, who studied fine and studio arts for a year in 2012, made several sculptures that appear as the main character’s work in the movie “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

“It was kind of like, in a strange way, being a father – you’re creating these pieces, they are kind of like kids,” Vascano said. “They came from a specific place in you. To see them on the big screen like that – it’s surreal.”

The production company for the movie contacted the New York Academy of Art – where Vascano received his master’s degree in fine art – looking for props because the movie’s main character, Fonny, is a sculptor. After sifting through the work of students, the production company chose Vascano because his work “related more to the characteristics of their character,” he said.

“The movie company really wanted to give the movie a feeling of a true artist working,” Vascano said. “That’s why they decided to reach out to actual artists instead of buying random stuff that look like sculptures.”

One of the most prominent sculptures in the movie is called “Blossoming” – a circular, abstract pinewood sculpture – which he made during a class. Vascano said that while the production company never asked him about the meaning behind the piece, it was part of a scene where Tish, Fonny’s love interest, realizes Fonny is in love with her and coincidentally the sculpture was also based on a romantic relationship he was in at the time, he said.

“They didn’t know that the piece was inspired by my relationship,” Vascano said. “It was about feeling in love and getting to know somebody and all that stuff.”

When he saw the movie for the first time in New York, he said it was a “crazy” experience because he never anticipated that one of his pieces would appear in the movies.

“You don’t know where these pieces are going to end up,” Vascano said. “You’re just making work because you’re an artist. You’re pulling from your past and your experiences and circumstances in life.”

In addition to “Blossoming,” the production company borrowed three pieces from Vascano’s studio and he created five more especially for the movie, including two pieces of “Blossoming” in different stages that mimic the artist’s process of creating a sculpture.

While Vascano said deadlines for producing new work were tighter than if he was making art for his own sake, he was not constrained creatively and enjoyed the experience.

“It’s an interesting experience on all sides – making a movie, sharing a bigger story,” Vascano said. “If I can be a part of something like that – that I believe, that I feel like is a genuine story – I would love to do it again. You’re a part of that big conversation, which is the human experience.”

Vascano said that many of the pieces he made for the film paralleled work he created while in school. When drawing inspiration for the new sculptures, Vascano said he relied on old sketches from his year in D.C.

“It was really nice to go back,” he said. “It’s kind of like your work and your sketches are time capsules.”

Vascano said there was something serendipitous about being asked to create sculptures for the movie. Several months before being contacted by the production company, Vascano saw the movie “Moonlight” – which shares the same director as “If Beale Street Could Talk” – on his flight to Italy, where he was about to start a sculpting residency.

He said he was “moved” by the experience of watching “Moonlight” on the plane because of its beauty and captivating storytelling and the work inspired him to create his own art.

“It inspires you to trust yourself more as an artist and not just do things to produce,” he said. “It was more about going back to the core of what you are, and trusting that.”

Eva Treacy contributed reporting.

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