Thursday, May 20, 2010

Jackson High School AP Art Students' Portfolio Show

Today I paid a visit to 2nd April to review the Jackson High School AP art portfolios. 17 senior students are represented in the show, having selected and hung their own work in the space allotted to them. High school is still my favorite grade level to teach. Back in my classroom days (1986 – 1990) I was one of three art teachers at Bay High School. I taught all the Art 1 students, Drawing 1 and 2, and Painting 1 and 2. Art 1 touched on printmaking, sculpture, design, color theory, art history and all the basics of drawing and painting. Foundations and fundamentals of art and art theory remain my core curriculum strength. So with an imaginary grade book in hand (I really miss my grade book), I walked the walls of the gallery for about an hour, finding some treasures, and missing a few of the old staples.

Some of the students included short bios that told about their future plans. Several top art schools will be getting Jackson students come fall, including Cleveland, Savannah, Maryland and Columbus. So as to better understand the context of the work on display, I checked the admission portfolio requirements for each of these schools. All of them have one very specific request in common, which was not evident in the Jackson portfolios. I’ll come back to that issue later. First, I want to point out some truly talented students and their work, treasures you should seek out yourself before the show closes after the upcoming First Friday in June.

If I had to pick a best in show…or maybe give an A+ since I am using my imaginary grade book (the one with the black vinyl cover that I lovingly wrote each student’s name in ultra fine sharpie in alphabetical order…..only to have a new kid come a few days after school started and mess up the whole thing….), I would give such a grade to Andrew S. and his acrylic painting, “Breaking the Habit”. His other standout is “Big Plans” which I hope he has, because I could not find a bio. He needs to go to art school.

A’s also go to Claire W. for her photo, “A Game to Me, A Lifestyle to Others”. Photography is sorely under-represented in this whole show, but very evident as the source material for the majority of the work. Ashley D. gets one for her print of an original watercolor, “They Sit in Their Untouched Glory”. Jackson has a strong program in watercolor painting which is a difficult and frustrating medium for realism at such a young age. The A in collage goes to Jaclyn Wright for “Thinking of You”, a large piece depicting two dogs that is well composed and displays an understanding of design fundamentals.

A second pass of the room found another A+ piece that I missed the first time, primarily due to the overwhelming number of pieces in the space. Maggie D’s mixed media piece, “Closing In” shows a sophistication of message and an understanding of how media can reinforce the content. I suspect it is a piece she worked at over a long period of time, refining the shapes and the layout, discovering new solutions along the way.

A-‘s go to Brock E for his excellent print from a watercolor. There was no tag (hence the -) which is a detail of presentation necessary at all levels. If it was the fault of somebody passing by and the tag blowing off…you get the full A. Another student with some strong pieces is Alexandra L. for her side by side landscapes, but particularly the simple still life of fruit. Sometimes, less is a whole lot more. It is hard to do something simple in a large space and make it feel complete. Using pattern, texture and the negative space to get maximum impact is only learned by experience and practice as well as developing an eye for editing one’s work. In my review notebook I also wrote down B. Locker and Todd V. as having a treasure to seek out.

If I had to offer one word of advice, it would be to edit just a bit. There is a rule to classic elegance in fashion, look in the mirror and then remove one item or accessory. Just one thing less will make the overall presentation stronger. That rule rings true with this display. I kept wanting to take just one piece off the wall from almost every presentation. Each student has their own voice, but each one also had one note off key. But ya know what…. In high school, I did the same thing. I wanted to shout my accomplishments to the world, I had worked hard. So have these students, they have worked hard and if they want to put it all out there, then good for you!! I relished seeing large canvases and aggressive painting. I sorted through the stacks of prints and got up close to see the unconventional surfaces. Even some visitors to the gallery were amazed to realize that the work was done by students. I guess they missed the big sign, right by the door, which said so.

I have to admit to missing some types of work, but I don’t’ know the Jackson curriculum so it could be that metals, enamel and textiles are not part of the program nor are digital photography, life drawing or ceramics. That is where the portfolio requirements check came into play. Every school requested (and some required) observational drawings, done without photographic reference. Maybe next year, their sketchbooks could be displayed as well, perhaps on music stands, so viewers can look through them for the foundation work behind the more refined pieces on view. Every artist no matter how old should have a working sketchbook in progress. (I had a column for sketchbooks in my grade book, the book in which we had to actually write each project grade, attendance, test score… computers back then….)

Congratulations to these seniors and best wishes for their futures in art. This is an exciting time and so many new ideas await you. Take your talent and push yourselves, but don’t forget the core foundations of design, color and composition which will serve you well no matter what career path you choose. Thank you to 2nd April for turning over its gallery walls to the next generation of artists. And one more thing… some of their stuff now. I bet in about 10 years, it could cost you a whole lot more.

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