WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Arts Center has been home to the work of 14 West Orange High School students for the last month, as the Advanced Placement art students put together an exhibit that will be open to the public through the end of the month. The exhibit, in its second year, not only features the work of advanced art students, but is also run by them. In the last month they have been able to experience having their art hang in a gallery show.
“This is the first gallery show for all of them,” WOHS AP art teacher Heather Young told the West Orange Chronicle in a March 14 phone interview. “It gives them the chance to talk about their work and really get that experience. They learned to stand near their work at the opening and introduce themselves, and it’s a great way for them to learn how to do that, because so many of them are going to be professional artists.”
Young said the students, all seniors, have had at least three to four years of art classe. She has had some as students for multiple years and has been able to see them grow as artists.
“They’re all seniors and have evolved,” Young said. “Some are applying to art schools and putting together portfolios. Most of them have specific styles that they’re working in or a specific theme. Some showed different seasons, some involved landscapes.”
Lisa Suss, the WOAC’s exhibition coordinator, told the Chronicle in a March 15 phone interview that the AP student exhibit is her favorite of the year.
“I love working with the kids,” Suss said. “We do three or four exhibits, and it’s the most fun show we do all year.”
Collaborating with the WOAC gives the student artists a chance to simulate what working in a gallery would be like if or when they are professional artists, Suss said.
“I like students having art in a location that’s not school,” she said. “It makes them feel professional. Not all of them will be going to art school; some will be studying other things. So it gives them the opportunity to do that.”
In addition to having their art on display, the students are working in the gallery during the course of the exhibit. They spend time at the gallery on weekends, cleaning the space and working with the staff and visitors.
Isabelle Bise, one of the show’s featured artists, said the experience of hanging her art in the gallery has been exciting.
“The closest we’ve ever had to that is in elementary school when we hang things in the library,” Bise said in a March 24 interview with the Chronicle. “There’s a huge sense of pride when anyone can walk in this gallery and see what a high schooler did.”
Bise hasn’t decided where she’s going to college yet, but plans to minor in art or art education.
“They (the WOAC) go out of their way to help students,” Young said. “The job responsibilities are good for them. Normally that wouldn’t happen until they’re professionals, so to do that is good preparation. I was glad they asked them to do that.”
Kayla Edwards, another featured artist, is planning to become an animator. She used Photoshop for the pieces she has hanging in the WOAC gallery; one is a storyboard of an animation piece she created, and another includes characters that she built with the graphics program.
“You see all these fantasy worlds and characters have these powers and with great power comes great responsibility,” she told the Chronicle on March 24. “That’s what I was concentrating on.” To get inspiration, she said she watches “Steven Universe” and “Gravity Falls,” as well as any Studio Ghibli movie.
Matthew Edwards chose his three best pieces to hang in the gallery, and focused on comparing and contrasting humans and nature. He used an image of a Venus flytrap in his artwork to illustrate his point.
“A Venus flytrap doesn’t look like it’s dangerous but it’s deadly in its own environment,” he told the Chronicle on March 24. “It has this very powerful disadvantage, so I wanted to show that.”
Edwards wants to go to Syracuse University and major in architecture after he took an architecture class at WOHS that he enjoyed.
“I never thought I’d do anything with it, I was just good at it,” he said about taking years of art classes. “It was fun. I took architecture and fell in love with it, so I’m hoping to do that.”
In addition to benefiting the WOHS students, Suss said the exhibit helps the WOAC, too.
“It makes us part of the community and exposes the Arts Council to people who maybe didn’t know about it before,” Suss said.
Photos Courtesy of WOSD