Teen artist captures public’s attention

By Darren Lum

Published April 10 2018

As soon as Haliburton teen Brenden Black could pick up a pencil he knew he loved to draw.

His passion was rewarded recently when he won the People’s Choice Award valued at $200 at the This is Tomorrow High School Arts Show at the Orillia Museum of Art and History last month.

The Grade 12 Haliburton Highlands Secondary School student said he never won anything like this before and it is a strong indication he is a good artist.

There was actually disbelief by Black who didn’t even know he had won the award until the news was relayed by his mother who was emailed by faculty member Brianne Pockett close to two weeks ago.

“Holy crap I can’t believe I’ve done this” he said.

The whole school knew about it before he did since the news was announced during a morning public announcement when he was absent.

His piece The End and the Beginning is an illustration in ink depicting his version of The Last Supper a famous mural painted by Leonardo da Vinci from the late-15th century. The main difference between Black’s work and the well-known religious work are the figures themselves which include more than 30 figures. According to Black’s interpretation the figures in the illustration which is set “out of space and time” are organized by the good on the left and evil on the right. Some of the good who are remembered for their positive contributions to society include Martin Luther King Gandhi and the lady justice statue set in front of a leafless tree. On the right are infamous orchestrators of human tragedy or representatives of evil such as Osama bin Laden Hitler Satan and also a figure of war (contrasting with lady justice) on the right standing on skulls set against black and red smoke. Where Jesus would be in The Last Supper there is a robot in the middle showing how all these figures have contributed to the dependence on technology. Above the robot there is a pyramid the “higher power” suspended above.

It is all about getting people to think and see where he thinks the world is headed.

“I’m the type of artist that just likes to mess around with art and draw funny stuff but I feel like it’s always good to strain people out and show people what’s real you know? Our world is kind of messed up now with Donald Trump being [America’s] president and mass shootings like that kind of stuff” he said. “I just want people to realize what’s what. What’s messed up.”

Black was inspired by the quality and the social commentary provided by famous Mexican painter Diego Rivera who he learned about from art class. He acknowledges the foreboding theme in his work mimics what is happening in the world.

“As far as modern day society I see us going in a bad direction so I wanted to put that in my artwork to show that there are a lot of [bad] people in this world” he said.

Drawing has always been something he has loved to do ever since he was seven.

He said it started as soon as he could hold a pencil. This led him to ask his mother for art lessons.

There is an appreciation and love of comics specifically the work of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby who are associated with some of the most iconic superheroes such as Spiderman Thor Captain America The Fantastic Four Black Panther the original X-Men and the Incredible Hulk.  Black was one of 16 HHSS students from Grade 9 to 12 who had 18 pieces exhibited from Jan. 20 to March 19 in the lounge gallery.

Event organizer and museum executive director Ninette Gyorody said there were more than 50 students who created 55 pieces. The collection consisted of mainly two-dimensional work (mixed media photography painting and drawing) except for two sculptures. This annual exhibition has been held for at least 15 years and opened up submissions to schools outside of Orillia three years ago.

“We recognize the value of the young artist’s voice and want to give them a professional opportunity to show their work that is professionally curated and installed. We consider it invaluable for their portfolio and future as emerging artists” she wrote in an email.

Winning this award has given Black confidence.

“It kind of shows if you do work hard on something that you truly believe you can do great things in something you can do. Go for it and have fun with it” he said. “I feel like art is one of those things … if you don’t believe you’re good you’re not going to make it.”

He remembers staying up to 5 a.m. to finish the piece that took close to 50 hours to complete. It was the most effort he has ever put forth for a piece.

The fact that the award was given because of a public vote has changed his own attitude about his work.

“Just seeing how other people can appreciate my artwork too even though sometimes I can’t is very flattering to me. It makes me want to do more with my artwork and show it off more” he said.  “I’m flattered that people voted for me. That’s crazy for me. I just want to say ‘thank you’ for whoever is reading.”

Black’s work was submitted by his high school Grade 12 art teacher Karen Gervais who enabled Black to add to his piece right up until the last day.

Gervais said the award won by Black is a good confidence builder as gaining the attention of the public is what a professional artist seeks.

“If you’re trying to make it as a professional artist you are somewhat driven by people’s reactions and tastes if they’re going to spend the time or purchase your work. It’s really great exposure and a confidence builder resume builder” she said.

The exhibition included work from students from Orillia High School Huntsville High School Simcoe Alternative Secondary School St. Theresa’s Catholic Secondary School Eastview Secondary School I.E. Weldon Secondary School and Lindsay Collegiate Vocational Institute.

Black remembers seeing his work was set on its own hanging separately from the rest of the pieces. It was the first piece exhibition visitors would see. In hindsight this placement he said makes perfect sense now that his was chosen as the people’s choice winner.

All of the exhibiting HHSS students went to see their artwork on Feb. 27 when their transportation was covered by TLDSB program enhancement funds. Their visit coincided with the Young Artists Conference which included art workshops based on topics such as art creation and curatorial efforts held from 10 to 2 p.m. This also enabled the high school students to meet with other students from other high school.

Gervais recalls how her student gave her the painting the day of the start to the show and she had to frame the piece that day for the exhibition. Black was appreciative to his teacher for the encouragement to submit his work and the opportunity to finish the piece to a higher standard.

Gervais said winning the people’s choice award is more impressive since he’s not from Orillia.

“The people who have friends and family in the area would have been more likely to get those kinds of votes. It says a lot being an unknown in Orillia that his work was still selected by visitors as the best representation of the theme that was pretty telling of his talent and the value of the work” she said.

Black may have had his work exhibited for the first time in Orillia but it won’t be his last this year.

He will share space with his peers for the student show at the end of May at the Rails End Gallery in Haliburton. He’s not sure if he will bring The End and the Beginning for the local exhibition since he wants to create a new piece which will likely have provocative imagery in the same vein describing it as a “sequel.”

It’s just another step in his journey to fulfilling a dream to be a professional illustrator.

“My dream job with art would be in comic books. I would love to make comic books. I think that would be very cool or something like a concept artist” he said.