From growing up in a suburb in Connecticut to attending the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design in Michigan, fifth year senior Ryan Taylor Espitia is tackling mental health and his queer Latino identity head on.
Espitia’s BFA thesis project, titled “Welcome to My Fucking Brain,” was a feat of bookmaking, writing, and scenic design. Espitia visually invited the audience into a vulnerable representation of his inner voice. The project used a variety of paper depicting his streams of consciousness and an artist book, “Querencia,” which suggests a path through grief and loneliness to growth and meaning.
“My thesis was the first time that I was very personal in my work. I’ve never been so vulnerable,” Espitia said. “In my artwork, I want to incorporate making spaces that people are comfortable in and touch on subjects regarding mental health. There’s an intersectionality between mental health, Latinx culture, and sexuality, and I want to continue breaking down those layers and seeing how those things impact each other.”
The interactive and three-dimensional display correlated with Espitia’s minor in Scenic Design through the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance. As someone who has multiple interests, Espitia says that Stamps gives him the opportunity to branch out in other schools at U‑M. He applies his design knowledge to theatre-based student organizations like Basement Arts, Blank Space Workshop, and MUSKET.
“I think a lot of my practice has been taking from what I’ve experienced outside of the classroom and applying it to my own individual practice,” Espitia said. “My background in theatre was very helpful in creating the space in my thesis for individuals to experience.”
Espitia has friends from all places: the dental program, computer science, and engineering. His involvement throughout the university has helped him in his own design practice.
“Stamps is a school within a large university,” Espitia said. “I have other experiences outside of art and design, and I’m very happy that I did that. I don’t like to be boxed in, and Stamps gave me flexibility in terms of what I wanted to do.”
Coming to Stamps from a small town was also a “culture shock” for Espitia, who says that he’s found his community. After being one of the few “artsy kids” in his high school, Espitia is now surrounded by people of many backgrounds and ethnicities.
“Coming here was a nice breakthrough of getting out and exploring lots of different options,” Espitia said. “I very much grew up in a bubble. I grew up in a bubble at school, and I grew up in a bubble at home. English was for school, and Spanish was for home. It was very weird to come here, and kind of feel like those things merged all of a sudden. My life and my personal life and my school life just sort of became one.”
Espitia currently connects with prospective students as a Student Ambassador at Stamps. He is able to discuss the things he likes most about the school, such as its flexibility and amount of interesting electives available.
“I took courses that I was interested in and courses that would challenge me. At Stamps, I appreciate how I can take classes that interest me,” Espitia said. “I wouldn’t have been able to explore so many classes if I was locked in as a painter since freshman year. It’s the flexibility that I really enjoy.”
Post-graduation, Espitia plans to continue going outside of the box in his craft and becoming involved in different disciplines and topics.
“I feel like designers are really great at being adaptable, changing, and shifting the way that they work,” Espitia said. “The more experiences you have outside of your specific lens that you’re looking through, the wider that lens can get. As designers, I think that’s what we’re all trying to strive for.”