NUTLEY, NJ — The creative visual talents of two Nutley High School students, junior Aaliyah Vega and senior Barbara Benda, are currently on display in “Inspired Minds,” a South Orange Performing Arts Center exhibit highlighting the artwork of Essex County high school students.
Aaliyah has a watercolor in the show titled “Smudged.” It is a sensitive portrait of a girl which was painted from the imagination. The face of the subject crowds the picture plane, adding to its emotional impact.
“I like watercolor because I can take it with me and the accidents can be pretty cool,” Aaliyah said recently at the school. “The drips on her face were accidental, but I made them purposeful.”
Aaliyah had been painting facial expressions, but her instructor suggested she paint a portrait.
“My field of choice is cosmetology so I was told to practice that,” she said.
Although the portrait has an emotional impact, Aaliyah said she was not thinking about expressing any emotions. She only wanted to practice working with the medium. “Smudged” was done for a class that required a portfolio be completed.
“This piece was done 95 percent at home,” Aaliyah said. “I like to work at home. With messier materials, I work at school.”
Barbara had two digital paintings exhibited. For both, she used photographs of herself.
“That’s because I had no one to model for me,” she said.
In “Don’t Look,” a young woman faces the viewer, but her face is buried in her hands. What fascinated this reviewer were the openings formed by the criss-crossing of fingers. They looked like eyes. Barbara said she wanted the hands to emotionally convey someone hiding from what is happening around them. This work was one of 12 she completed for advanced placement consideration. In each, the use of hands is prominent.
Her second work, “Reflection,” is about people not revealing their true feelings.
“She has on a fancy dress, but the image of the face is melting,” Barbara said of the subject. “That’s how she’s feeling about putting up this facade.”
“Don’t Look” was chosen as a winning entry in the 2017 Congressional Art Show sponsored by the non-profit Congressional Institute. Although it was displayed in the U.S. Capitol, Barbara said she thought “Reflection” was more artistically competent. Barbara plans to attend Rutgers University to study astrophysics.
“Inspired Minds,” which opened May 14, will run until Aug. 17. Linda Beard, director of community engagement and education at SOPAC, said the three-month stay of the student work is the most time the arts center gives to any one exhibit. The show, she said, grew from a SOPAC gala celebrating all the art. It leapt onto its own stage five years ago.
“It was such a wonderful experience, although it was attached to the gala, to see the parents and the students interact with the art on the walls,” Beard said in a telephone interview.
For the first year, the exhibit had 60 submissions from just one high school.
“This year, we had over 1,000 submissions from 25 high schools,” she said.
The high school represented that first year was Columbia High School, located in the South Orange and Maplewood School District.
Two years ago, a companion exhibit called “Inspiring Minds” was established at ValleyArtsNJ, Orange.
“I recognized getting the students involved required their teachers,” Beard said. “They are the lynchpin, doing all the hard work. And a lot of times, they’re accomplished artists, too.”