WOHS students transform WOAC gallery with their art

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — The walls of the West Orange Arts Center are filled with the artwork of AP art students from West Orange High School, showing off the talent of the juniors and seniors who are taking high level art classes with WOHS teacher Heather Young. It’s the first year the juniors are included in the exhibit, giving them a chance to be introduced to AP art before they are able to take the class next year. On display until March 24, the exhibit includes the work of juniors Brandon Andrade, Olivia Callender, Ruth Donagher, Tricia Garchitorena, Christina Gilio-Malabre, Cassidy Joyce, Ari Latchman and Jack Mault, and seniors Elizabeth Berwind, Kate Dickman, Elijah Evans, Proggya Paromita, Emily Sarett and Jasmine Torruella.

This is Torruella’s first time taking an art class in high school, and she’s glad she decided to add it to her schedule.

“It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in high school,” Torruella said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the exhibit opening on March 9. “Even only five months in, I learned so much.”

One of the pieces she has hanging in the show is her self-portrait, which every AP student had to create. She included the jasmine flower in the background to represent her name, and surrounded the pencil drawing with red. Another piece Torruella has in the show is a collage of her sketchbook drawings.

“I don’t have a lot of professional pieces,” she said. “So I cut things out and put them together from things I already had.”

The students learned how to put together a gallery show with the help of WOAC exhibition coordinator Lisa Suss, and Young said the experience is good to learn, especially for the few students who are planning to go to art school.

“We talked about how to hang work and display their pieces,” Young said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “A gallery show can go on their college applications too. They have an artist statement and have learned how to be prepared to talk about their art.”

There are six seniors in the AP art class, who all applied to the program the year before. They submitted a portfolio that Young and the other WOHS art teachers reviewed to decide who would get into the class. Because this year’s group is smaller than in past years, Young decided to give the junior art students a chance to be in the show as a preview of their next year.

One of those students is Mault, who has a sketch of a wolf hanging in the gallery next to a prototype of a skateboard he built and painted.

“My friend gave me the board and asked me to do some design,” Mault said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “So I stained the front and the back and then painted it like Banksy, who I love.”

Mault will be in AP art next year, and is looking forward to the class to try as many different types of art as he can. He’s taken art classes for as long as he could, and wants to make a career out of it. Until then, though, he’s making his art multipurpose.

“It rides amazing,” Mault said about the skateboard, which he has used before. “It’s the best skateboard I’ve built.”

Suss said the student show is her favorite exhibit of the year at the WOAC.

“The kids are great and their work is fantastic,” she said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “It’s almost a part of the curriculum but they’re in a venue that isn’t school, and that has tremendous value. Usually they get school and that’s it, so it’s a different environment.”

Sarett, a senior, said she has learned more from the people who have looked at her work than she had expected. Her art focuses on political themes, one piece depicting a gun with the names of schools that have been affected by gun violence in smoke made of charcoal and pastel.

“It’s interesting seeing other takes on it,” Sarett said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “There’s things that I don’t see about it that others do, so that’s been cool to see.”

Paromita moved to West Orange from Canada when she was a freshman, and said that taking art classes at WOHS helped with the move and transition. She didn’t take too many art classes before high school, and is planning on majoring in biochemistry in college.

“I’m a pretty hands-on learner and work a lot with my hands in labs,” Paromita said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “It’s the same concentration with both, so I can use the skills I have in both in different aspects.”

Her concentration for the work in the show is social media and pop culture, and Paromita’s self-portrait is done in chalk and pencil. The portrait depicts her wearing a Wonder Woman costume with pieces of steel on her face and arms. Another piece of hers talks about suicide prevention, showing how social media can affect mental health.

In the corner of the WOAC’s back room, a wheelchair wheel is decorated to look like a spacecraft hanging in front of two galaxy printed pieces. It’s the work of Berwind, who found the wheel in her basement and decided to do something with it.

“My parents had two wheelchair wheels in the basement but not the chair. We couldn’t find it anywhere, so I figured I might as well make something out of it. And I love space; you can ship me out right now and I would go to space,” Berwind joked in an interview with the Chronicle at the event.

Made to look like a kaleidoscope, the wheel lights up and Berwind can rig it to spin, looking like a floating spacecraft. It’s hanging next to her other work, some of which are photo manipulations she did in Photoshop and an interpretation of “Lady with a Fan,” by Gustav Klimt, in which she turned the lady into singer Ariana Grande.

Berwind, who was accepted into the art programs at Montclair State University and the Savannah College of Art and Design, said she will try to make art out of anything she can.

“I’ll do anything I can get my hands on,” she said. “I like taking random things and turning them into something else.”

Photos by Amanda Valentovic