The Chatham Arts Council is investing in artists through our Meet This Artist series, introducing you to 12 Chatham County artists each year in a big way.
The fine folks at Hobbs Architects in downtown Pittsboro are powering our Meet This Artist series this year. Architecture is art, and the Hobbs crew values art in our community.
Take a look. Meet your very inspiring neighbors. Meet This Artist.
It is always exciting when students from our very own Chatham County make it to the national spotlight in the arts. This year, Northwood High School students Jade Schneider and Rokia Sissoko were two of only 199 students to have their art work featured in the seventh annual National Art Honor Society/National Junior Art Honor Society (NAHS/NJAHS) Juried Exhibition. This year’s exhibition is virtual, and can be seen on the National Art Education Association (NAEA) website. From a record-breaking total of 1,665 submissions, 199 works representing 103 schools from 29 states and 3 countries outside the US are represented in the Exhibition. Submissions were juried digitally by representatives from six member schools of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD.)
In addition to interviewing the young artists, we’ve also talked with their art teacher at Northwood, Leslie Burwell. We encourage you to read more about these talented two artists and their supportive art teacher!
Let’s start with a few questions for you, Leslie, as an art teacher. How do you feel the pandemic has affected your students’ artwork?
I’ve seen different responses to the pandemic. Some students in the honors art classes, even though they missed their friends and social events, were able to spend more time on art-making, while others had a difficult time being motivated at home and created less. I also had students dialing in from work to attend Zoom classes during the pandemic to show their work to their peers.
I think that students who were in Art I enjoyed the course, but because many of the ninth-grade students hadn’t made connections with their peers yet, it was really difficult to feel a part of the culture they had not yet experienced in person. I still had fantastic participation and students creating art, as evident in the virtual art exhibits for the Spring of 2020, Fall of 2020 and Spring of 2021. Many students explored art-making as a creative outlet, and the demand for visual art classes at our school increased last year.
Do you see emerging themes in the students’ work this year?
I’ve taught at Northwood for twenty years. The past two student art shows demonstrate a whole range of feelings and emotions to process a global pandemic, but at the same time, some kids just want to paint a beautiful landscape or capture a cool photograph at a softball game. We have such a diverse group of students.
I would say that themes are not changing due to the pandemic, but perhaps the adults are paying more attention to what our youth are expressing because of the pandemic. High school students have always created art using themes of emotion, isolation, environment, body image, and social causes. We are all trying to make sense of our world, and seeing the viewpoints of our young adults is inspiring and humbling.
What was the process for these two pieces being submitted for this jury review?
The criteria for the juried show is that students must be members of the National Art Honor Society. Students who have completed Art I with an A average and two teacher referrals are invited to be a member of the organization. It’s an exciting opportunity to have their work in a juried competition. We are thrilled to have our chapter represented at a national level!
What do you think makes these two pieces special?
Jade’s work is based on her AP coursework. Her art inquiry asks questions about childhood and nostalgia. The color pencil technique, her usage of color, and the angle of the little girl twirling in rainbows calls out to an idea of being little and in your own world but having the excitement of being at a special occasion like a wedding. Jade is an excellent portrait artist, and this work showcases her ability to be expressive.
Rokia’s block print is based on a prompt I gave to the class to interview someone they admire or wanted to honor. It’s an exceptional print, as it’s organized through a stained glass window. The symbols and imagery are organized with outstanding use of design. Her carving skills in the linoleum demonstrate a strong understanding of printmaking. It is lovely work that pulls you in and makes you want to know more about the person standing next to the house.
Okay, Jade and Rokia, over to you. How did you come up with the idea for your piece?
Jade: I came up with my piece, Flower Girl, while searching through an old family photo album. I’ve been exploring the idea of nostalgia through my art in an inquiry throughout the past two school years. One of the main sources of inspiration for my inquiry has been reflecting on childhood memories and photographs. I was especially struck by a childhood photo of when I was the flower girl at my uncle’s wedding. I felt it had such a sense of joy and authenticity emanating from the photograph, so I decided to make a piece based on that memory.
Rokia: I interviewed my grandfather about his life. He told me about his life growing up in Michigan, meeting my grandmother, his time in the military, and what his job was like. He showed me a photo album of pictures from when he was younger and his family. I tried to represent the theme of resilience from his stories in my art. I decided to tell his story through a church window because Catholicism has been a big piece in his life. I made each panel of the window an event or theme of his life. I included a panel with his childhood home, a panel about his relationship with my grandmother, and the top panel is a sunrise to represent his resilience and how he kept moving up.
How has the pandemic affected your artwork?
Jade: The pandemic has changed my artistic journey in ways I never thought it would. At the beginning of the pandemic, I finally had free time to pick up art again. When I first began high school in 2018, I was incredibly busy and felt I had barely any time to explore my passions. The pandemic opened new opportunities for me to both grow as a person and as an artist. I began creating art practically every day for hours and hours. I felt that I was able to improve at a faster rate than I ever had before. At the same time, however, I feel my mental health suffered a lot, so I went through various cycles of frustration about my art. Overall, I do feel as if my art improved immensely over the past two years.
Rokia: I think online school and being home a lot pushed me to create more. I started more craft projects and sketchbook drawings.
Have you always been interested in art? How young were you when you began?
Jade: Art, in general, has always been an interest of mine, whether it was singing, dancing, or music. However, I wasn’t always the stereotypical ‘art kid’ growing up. Where I attended elementary school, they couldn’t afford a visual arts program, so I never really drew much back then. It wasn’t until I moved schools in the fourth grade that my teacher dedicated an hour to arts and crafts every day. It was then that I found I really loved drawing, and I haven’t stopped loving it since.
Rokia: I have always been interested in art. I used to make my own comic books in elementary school. Now I’m learning how to document stories through art, and learning about using symbols to represent stories instead of exposing deeply personal experiences.
Who inspires you as an artist?
Jade: I am always inspired by my fellow artists and experiences in life. When I feel I’ve hit a block in my art, I always like to get inspired by other artists because it often gives me a different perspective. When my art feels bland or unoriginal, I pull from my own memories and experiences to make my art more engaging so I can make a deeper connection to the piece.
Rokia: I am inspired by Frida Kahlo, because she painted herself to process things. Also, my dad inspires me because I see how he enjoys creating and selling his own sculptures.
What role do you see art playing in your life after high school?
Jade: After high school, I aspire to work in the animation industry as a visual development artist and a character designer. I hope to achieve my aspirations by attending an art school to get a bachelor’s degree. Art has always been an integral part of my childhood, and I hope to continue to make art throughout the rest of my life.
Rokia: Hopefully, I will be able to create art, at least for fun. I have considered selling my art after high school as well.