Emily Ratcliffe sits in front of her artwork which leads into a larger experiential installation called Simplicated. Her work simulated the experience of anxiety and depression.

Student artists impress at annual show

By Darren Lum

Published April 18 2017

Four local high school students are still in awe after this year’s Kawartha Art Gallery Juried Student Exhibition awards presentation at the Lindsay Golf Course several weeks ago.

The show which concluded April 1 included a diverse collection of art by high school students from across the school board juried by the Whitby Station Gallery’s curator Olexander Wlasenko.
He has curated more than 50 exhibitions.

HHSS students Emma Graham Evelyn Woof Alicia Villamere and Natalya Gimon were among a select group of winners earning four of the 18 awards up for grabs at the exhibition.

Grade 12 student Emma Graham earned high praise in winning the Lindsay Library Purchase Award. Her Alice in Wonderland themed painting focused on a rabbit hole made using the pages of a book highlighted by a gel medium transfer technique. Down the Rabbit Hole will not only hang indefinitely at the library but also received a $250 prize.

After four years of art education primarily in high school Emma was blown away by having her work purchased and displayed.

“I felt honoured and I was really surprised when Mrs. [Karen] Gervais told me that it was purchased and I won that award” she said.

This was one of the rare occasions she felt confident about something she has created she said.
Emma said she feels the effort she put forth in this piece signalled a positive step forward for her in art. She’s striving to refine her artistic skills further. She aspires to become a tattoo artist which she decided two months ago when she started doing her own tattoos. Among her muses is Dutch post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh.

“I’ve always been drawn to amazing artists and they really inspire me to create art and that’s what led to it” she said.

Another Grade 12 student who earned acclaim was a surprised Evelyn Woof who earned the Mayor’s Award judged by the mayor which comes with a $50 award for her mixed media work How are you?
Evelyn was equally as shocked as Emma at the acknowledgement despite her teacher’s endorsement and the “strong meaning” she felt in her work.

The work illustrates the multitude of feelings expressed by mentally suffering with the question “How are you?” at the bottom with vertical series of three smiling half faces covered haphazardly by common phrases used to project happiness and contentment (“fine” “I’m alright” and “I’m okay”) on one side are horizontal bands of colours red blue and yellow while the other has a single word beside it such as Depression.

Unlike Emma Evelyn isn’t certain of a career in art. For her art is a personal endeavour from which she derives a sense of calm.

Her piece was built on a foundation of personal experience. She doesn’t personally have mental health related issues but knows those who have.

“Mental health is not well recognized at all so it was important to me to convey that message” she said.

The judges told her they appreciated “the deep meaning” of her piece which was her first attempt to explore this theme in any of her artistic creations in the four years of high school.

She wanted to raise awareness about mental health and tell those suffering to get help instead of pretending that everything is OK.

Junior students Alicia Villamere and Natalya Gimon both in Grade 10 won $50 prizes. Alicia won the Creative Sense of Balance and Composition award for her work Harmony while Natalya won the Presentation and Framing award for Renenutet – named for the Egyptian goddess of fertility and harvest.

Natayla’s artistic journey started before school with her mother who taught her about making crafts.
Getting to be part of the presentation gave her an opportunity to receive recognition outside of school and see what the other students her age created.

Natalya attended the ceremony and hopes to return next year.

“Now that I know what it looks like I definitely want to participate in it again” she said.

Her piece employed mixed media of acrylic watercolour and printmaking technique. Since Renenutet’s animal counterpart was a snake Natalya depicted the goddess’s face with a snake.

Besides elementary school crafts Alicia started to put her artistic skills into practice the first two years of high school.

“It’s always nice to be acknowledged for the works you do and someone else to say ‘wow you actually did a good job like this is really nice and I like it.’ Having that is always nice” she said.

The most favoured characteristic of her work she said was the contrast of the bright colours – orange blue brown and red. It was based on an assignment with an aboriginal theme illustrating the relationship between a fox and a rabbit.

HHSS arts department head Karen Gervais who taught all of the students last semester believed in their work.

She approached the students to submit their work. Which pieces were chosen for the exhibition was a collaborative decision between the students. For Emma to win was a coup as this award is not given every year.

Gervais said despite being a small school HHSS finished with the second most awards coming home with four while the larger I.E. Weldon Secondary School earned nine.

“For a small school I think that our students are doing pretty good and making some pretty amazing things” she said. “Not just our school but our community in general. I think there is a lot of emphasis on the arts and the importance of not just a means to make a living but for expression and communication and therapy of making arts. Students found a value in that.”