Senior art exhibitions celebrate and recognize the work of the graduating class

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Photo credit: Visual Arts Website

The annual Senior Art Exhibition is a culmination of a year’s worth of work, which gives senior artists a chance to share their work with the entirety of the Archer community. This year, each senior art student created a website to display their efforts as well as the chance to display a single piece in the Eastern Star Gallery amongst their peers.

By London Sinclair, Podcast Editor

While most students spend their final few months of school completing course requests, writing final papers and making plans for the summer, a small group of senior art students gear up to put their work on display. Comprised of painters, ceramicists, photographers, designers and drawers, each senior has the opportunity to create a portfolio tied to their interests and medium of choice. A culmination of a year’s worth of work, the annual senior art show gives students a taste of what it’s like to be a part of a formal gallery opening. But this year, amidst the novel COVID-19 pandemic, the Arts Department has had to reimagine senior exhibitions.  

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Archer closed its campus March of 2020, making not only an in-person art show impossible but also impacting student access to campus resources. Visual arts teachers Marya Alford, Carolyn Janssen and Olivia Moon, began to think about how to adapt in the face of unforeseen circumstances.

“We’ve been doing this for over a year, and the senior shows last year were online too, so we knew that we were going to have to be online. Ms. Moon, Ms. Janssen and I were trying to devise a way to have some physical presence, but with the guidelines changing by the minute, all of our projects had to be totally digital given the space and time,” photography teacher Alford said. “I was really lucky in that realm because photography is such a digitally accessibly field, but I know it was not as easy for studio art and especially for ceramics — they are incredible to have gone through those challenges.” 

Students were asked to build their own websites and either take photographs of their final pieces or upload their works in order to build a virtual representation of the show on the Archer Visual and Performing Arts website. The senior exhibition websites went live on Monday, June 10, giving the entire Archer community access to each senior’s AP portfolio and other collections.

“I think each senior really went through their own challenges and breakthroughs and discoveries. What I got to see this year from my students and from walking through the gallery and their websites is experimentation. Perseverance, resilience and experimentation are the three words that come to mind,” Alford said. “When you look at many artists and the history of their lives, oftentimes, when one goes through a difficult time, you see the slight blossoming of a different style of work. I feel like that happened to all of our students, and they might be making entirely different work had we not gone into quarantine.”

Janssen echoed this sentiment, commenting on the array of experiences and emotions that each artist went through.

“I really feel like our art, and our art-making and the conversations we have about art, got us through this year together. There were a lot of times that were cathartic and expressed pain and challenge, and then other times that it was humorous and fun, and brought levity,” Janssen said. “It was interesting to see each artist adjust to their scenario. Some artists just thrived, with the opportunity to have more unstructured time to be quiet and alone to really spread out and create their own art room. And for some of them that art room extended to their backyard and their garage and into the streets. Then there was also a lot of grief and mourning and pain and missing the art room and just the energy that we felt together in that room.” 

Confined to their homes due to the California stay-at-home order, many of the seniors channeled their more immediate environments as sources of inspiration. Spending more time at home, the little things around senior Hannah Joe’s house became “more meaningful than ever,” which inspired her AP Portfolio theme of “nostalgia.”

“As I get closer to going across the country for college and moving away from the people, places and routines I’ve known my whole life, I’ve felt myself gravitating towards creating more nostalgic and personal work,” Joe’s website said. “For my senior show, I decided to shoot a handful of moments from my day-to-day life that I know I will soon be missing, as a way to honor the little things I’ve come to appreciate so much more now that I’ll be heading off into a new adventure.”

While Joe recounts a positive experience, senior Bey Weston has felt “discontent” with her work this past year and an overall lack of closure from the senior art program.

“It’s definitely been very interesting to see myself grow across the past couple years because I know there has been improvement, but with the overall situation, especially for the last semester, I wasn’t as happy with what I created as I could have been,” Weston said. “I felt like given more time or more motivation I could have done something a lot better, but it did give me a chance to look further into how I animate different things. That little wax animation was only one of the three major ones that I’ve made this year, but it was the one that I thought I would portray my emotions and my viewpoints the best.”

Above is the singular piece highlighted on Weston’s website. The caption to this piece states: “Honestly, I don’t think I can mentally handle putting in all the official works that I’ve done for this year onto this website. I genuinely tried and I was filled with discontent. Instead, I’ll give you this video that I made about feeling burnt out. About feeling like my head was on fire with the absolute storm that consumed my life in the latter half of my senior year and my inability to take a moment for myself.”

The majority of the senior artists have been in the arts program since the beginning of high school and have developed an emotional attachment to their teachers and mentors, who have nurtured each of their creative journeys.

“Mr. Attie is the perfect combination of do whatever you want with life, but then pushes you to dig deeper, he was the person who helped me curate my first installation in ninth grade. Ms. Alford is somehow always around the door just peeking in, which I love,” senior artist Kaeli McLeod said. “Ms Janssen — where did it begin that woman. She’s so in touch with her sensitive side which is great for a sensitive artist like myself. She’s super encouraging, but she also has amazing technical skills and has a great eye for problem solving in general when it comes to conceptual pieces.”

The art department expressed a similar sentiment, as they too have been with the seniors from as young as 13 years old. There are currently 22 seniors graduating from the arts department.

“The arts teachers at Archer always talk about how we have such a wonderful job in the sense that we get to see you all from eighth grade usually till your senior year,” Alford said. “We see your growth as an artist from eighth grade until you’re a senior and you’re graduating and you’ve developed this incredible voice and you know how to speak it through your work and form it in sculpture or photo — it’s such a privilege.”