The Irvine Fine Arts Center high school art exhibit that went up right as O.C. shut down
Each year, high school students from all over Irvine display their artwork at the Irvine Fine Arts Center. This year, coronavirus-related closures prevented anyone from seeing their exhibit. But here is a selection of their work, with commentary from the judges, fiber artist duo Threadwinners.
On March 17, the Orange County health officer ordered a ban on all public and private gatherings to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. But the very next day, they backtracked, explaining it wasn’t meant to be a shutdown order and that businesses could continue operating as long as they followed social distancing guidelines.
Months later, we now know that nonessential businesses would be ordered to close. But amidst the confusion, the Irvine Fine Arts Center was installing their annual high school exhibit, that featured artwork from seven schools in Irvine: Arnold O. Beckman, Crean Lutheran, Irvine, Northwood, Portola, University and Woodbridge high schools. (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)
It was scheduled to open March 20 with a party. Judges, guest artists Threadwinners, a fiber artist duo, would announce the prizewinners, and the high schoolers would be able to celebrate their year’s work with their classmates, friends and family.
The installation was finished on March 18 and set to run through April 11. Even as the closing date approached, there was some hope that it could be extended further. But when it became clear that the Irvine Fine Arts Center would be closed indefinitely during the unpredictable crisis, they took the artwork down.
So nobody saw it. (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)
“It is so great that the Irvine Fine Arts Center opens its gallery doors to allow students to showcase their work,” says Liz Flynn of Threadwinners. “When I was in high school, we had shows on pop-up walls or in our library, which was great, but this is an actual established gallery. It’s necessary but unfortunate that the opening couldn’t happen, because that is also part of the experience of showing at a gallery.” (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)
The staff at the Irvine Fine Arts Center is especially proud of this annual exhibit, because it’s often the first opportunity for many young artists to show their work in a professional gallery setting.
What these young artists address in their artwork is “meaningful, valid and adds to a rich and broad cultural conversation,” reads the official statement from the gallery. “Themes of identity, family, community, communication, and broader social issues tend to come through in many of the works.”
There were 194 pieces of art in the show. Here is just a small selection of the work. (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)
“This year, Threadwinners were invited to jury the exhibition due to the approachable nature of their practice and their advocacy for arts education,” the statement continues. “We were hopeful that students who are endeavoring with non-traditional materials, and who are interested in a playful and unconventional approach to art making, would be inspired by the paths that Threadwinners have taken.”
Alyssa Arney of Threadwinners grew up in rural Indiana, and she says she was blown away by the artwork made by high school students in Southern California.
“The talent is just there,” she said. “Everything is top notch, compelling and very skillfully done. You just don’t see this type of output in a lot of places.” (Courtesy of Threadwinners)
First place was awarded to Rachel Kim of Irvine High School for her color pencil drawing “Inseparability.”
“We, as humans, live with comfort in technologies and artificial things,” Kim writes in her artist statement. “But as we get more comfortable, our environment gets destroyed and ruined, unable to recover later ... Humans are the most beautiful when they are with nature. Noticing the importance of nature will eventually lead humans to protect their surrounding environment and animals.”
“The technical on that is insane,” the judge’s statement said. “When I see hyper-realism like that, in a way that whatever medium the artist uses is secondary because they are able to figure out a way to seamlessly create the illusion of reality, it’s genius.” (Courtesy of Rachel Kim)
Second place went to Maddy Noh from Portola High School for her digital photography titled “Multiple Perspectives.”
“My Grandpa can only see the young energetic man he once was in the military,” reads Noh’s artist statement.
“It made you stop and look at it and think how it’s telling a many-layered story along with the many layers of mirrors,” the judge’s statement said. “And it’s going back to family history, so it made me stop and stare at it and think about my family.” (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)
Third place went to Thomas Cho of Crean Lutheran High School for his acrylic on a tent, titled “Barricade.”
“You have to see it in person; it blew our minds,” the judge’s statement said. “It was a full-size camping tent, and on each side of the tent, the artist painted law buildings and pantheistic structures.
“We loved it, because it felt perfect for this moment in time, with ICE and the deportations. We’re not sure if that’s what he intended, but that’s what we thought of when we were looking at it: law and justice coming to people in their tents. We just thought it was so good, so compelling and amazingly rendered. And he took painting to another level by putting it not on a canvas but on a structure, so it’s like a sculptural painting.” (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)
Honorable mention went to Mia Diaz from Crean Lutheran High School for her ceramic shoe titled “It Suits You.”
“When I created the shoe, I was thinking about how other people perceive me,” Diaz wrote. “You can be defined by or judged for anything you do, even simple things like what shoes you decide to wear. I created it with the intent of showing how overwhelming those judgments can be.”
“It has an abject surrealism to it,” the judge’s statement said. “And sometimes that’s how you feel when you’re wearing shoes. Or it could be about putting your foot in your mouth. It’s just really arresting, and the more you stare at it, the more you see the different layers.” (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)
The second Honorable Mention award went to Kristina Newton of Woodbridge High School for her color pencil drawing titled “Dark Lemon.”
“I really like how the inside of citrus fruits look, and I thought I would be able to recreate that well,” Newton explained. “I decided I would draw a lot of the highlights in colored pencil, but come back later with a white pen and add the rest. It was really hard drawing the whole texture of the lemon, especially the skin, but I kept trying and adding colors and it eventually turned out.”
“It’s like a traditional renaissance painting of fruits ... it’s so visceral looking,” the judge’s statement said. “It reminded me of the still life paintings of the rotting fruit from the Netherlands. And technically, the skill level really stood out to us.” (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center
Lauren Bugay’s photograph “Love Is Blind” from Irvine High School.
“I decided to create this piece to discuss how the perception of our reality is obscured once we experience the emotions of love,” Bugay wrote. “Our reasoning becomes unclear, and our world seems to revolve helplessly around a single person. The concept of self worth is sacrificed and we merely lose ourselves in the pursuit of love.”
The judges added that they “loved the atmosphere created in this shot. The sharp color contrast and composition create a truly mesmerizing image.” (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)
Portola High School student Cathy Li’s untitled acrylic on canvas.
“The colors, composition, and subject matter all work together to create such a whimsical, soothing, slightly melancholy tone,” the judge’s statement said. (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)
A close-up of Crean Lutheran High School student Kevin Lee’s embroidered dress.
“We’re fiber artists, so of course we were naturally drawn to this garment piece!” the judge’s statement said. “The meticulous attention to detail is something to be admired.” (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)
Northwood High School student Katarina Hanks’ mixed media “Best Foot Forward” is the story of three feet preparing for the foot pageant.
“Sometimes the most delightful part of being an observer is getting to imagine what’s not handed to you — in this case, the odd characters behind the feet,” Hanks wrote. “I love playing with ‘ugly’ and ending up somewhere more bizarre and whimsical.” (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)
Catherine Joo’s drawing “Grandma” from Crean Lutheran High School.
“The art piece is of a Grandmother taking a picture of her old phone with the memory of youth,” writes Joo. “I changed the hand to a young hand to represent youth by using black and white color.”
“We enjoyed the cleverness of this piece, as well as the message that can be read into the subject matter,” the judge’s statement said. (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)
Alison Nesbitt’s photograph “My Black Loafers” from Arnold O. Beckman High School.
“I was initially rushing out of the house but stopped to take a photo when I noticed the subject’s positioning on the steps,” writes Nesbitt. “I appreciate the abstract nature of the image: it can not be inferred where the subject is walking to and when the steps will end. When composing the shot, I focused on the symmetry between the three paintings hanging on the wall and the pattern of the steps.” (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)
Tina Moridian’s digital illustration “Hella,”from Arnold O. Beckman High School.
Moridian explained that she was born in Iran and grew up in Dubai, and she always thought ‘hella’ was something cool to say.
“And so it became a running joke between my friends that I use ‘hella’ too much,” she explained. “Honestly my work was inspired by a sticker book I saw at Barnes and Noble that had the same style, and I wanted to try something funky and new. I love to experiment and try different styles without really being serious about it, because sometimes art just needs to be fun and silly.” (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)
Annie Li’s untitled acrylic painting from Crean Lutheran High School. It looks like a simple painting of a line of pigs, but look closer.
“This image is simultaneously hilarious, uncanny, and full of gravitas. That’s no small achievement!” the judge’s statement said. (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)
Northwood High School student Tiffany Sun’s oil painting titled “Honey.”
“I used oil on a canvas board, which is great because the oil allowed me to layer and blend giving a more realistic effect,” wrote Sun. “This was the first piece for my AP Concentration, in which the theme was about stickiness. For this piece, I just wanted the honey to illustrate an overwhelming sense of stickiness.” (Courtesy of Tiffany Sun)
Christopher Solares’ untitled photograph from University High School.
“This is a photo I took of my friend Ken Lathrop at UCI,” Solares wrote. “When taking photos, I enhance the colors and lights within a photo in order to portray a sharp and colorful style. It was captured in bright sunlight to ensure that the contrast between the light and shadows of the lattice structure was very clear on my friend’s figure. I positioned him, so that the lattice pattern highlighted his eye, which was meant to compositionally be the focal point of the photo.
“I also made sure his figure filled the frame and accentuated depth between the foreground and background by putting distance between him and the background. Using a relatively low aperture, I wanted to preserve some of the definition of the background shadows, while having slight blur to enhance my friend’s presence. Color-wise, I increased the saturation to give his skin a ‘fuller’ tone, and preserved the pure white of his crew-neck to exaggerate the contrast between the light and shadows.” (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)
Portola High School student Esther Moon’s mixed media piece titled ”Smoke and Mirrors.”
“In a technical context, this piece represents the steady growth I’ve experienced as an art student, for I underwent a process of revision and experimentation to become familiar with oil painting,” wrote Moon. “I strove to capture the doe-eyed innocence of my reference and the juxtaposition it carried with a cigarette, layering stamped letters into accessory-like forms to highlight the superficiality of celebrity culture.” (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)
University High School student Kain Sosa’s photograph “Figure to Ground.”
“The photograph was inspired by the four years my friends and I spent in cross country featuring, from left, Matt Lu, Kyle Annette and Anshay Saboo, and Michael Graham Bae,” wrote Sosa. “At the first meet of our last season, my friends and I walked around to get one last feel of the course. The combination of the fog and bright sunrise created a thick yellow haze that surrounded us, resulting in a surreal environment that emphasized the importance of our last cross country season.
“The composition of the silhouettes holding hands with one at the left reaching for the sky signifies the start of our new chapter as we finish our senior year together.”
“The haziness, the golden hour light, and use of shadow all come together to create a dreamy image,” the judge’s statement said. ()
Vanessa Ho’s color pencil drawing titled “As Sweet As It Gets” from Arnold O. Beckman High School.
“My inspiration behind this is my general love for desserts, especially cupcakes,” Ho wrote. “There’s something so satisfying about the juxtaposition of contrasting flavors and textures within a cupcake ... This artwork expresses what I see in a cupcake: a fun, sweet dessert that’ll make you get a sugar rush. What’s better than that?”
“The hyper realism of this piece is incredible,” the judge’s statement said. “We spent a lot of time admiring the level of skill required to make such a flawless piece.” (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)
Crystal Chen’s ceramics piece titled “A Burst Of New Life” from Irvine High School is made with porcelain clay and glazed with celadon.
“The idea of this project was to show how strong life is, with the flower that’s coming out of the heart represent the new life,” wrote Chen. “The flower slowly grows up, and one day it will be strong enough to face all the challenges in life.” (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)
Danica Wong’s ceramic piece “Yakult” from University High School.
“The Yakult was inspired by ceramic artist Stephanie Shih whose work aims to connect people, Asian Americans in particular, through the nostalgia of their pantry,” wrote Wong. “As I explored her work, I resonated with many of the groceries that she sculpted, especially the Yakult because of the countless bottles I went through as a child and the memories I have attached to them.
“Later, the decision was made to combine this piece with a T-rex, octopus hybrid animal, a paper airplane, and an anatomical heart. This group piece was titled ‘The Heart of Childhood,’ because of my association of these objects with that particular period of my life. Similar to the artist that inspired the ‘Yakult,’ I hope that the combination of these pieces can resonate with others and allow them to remember a piece of their own childhood.” (Courtesy of Danica Wong)
Irvine High School student Kaylei Galloway’s acrylic painting titled “True Butterfly Shine.”
“My original thought behind the piece was to show how the deep rooted insecurities, depression and overall flaws of a human are buried beneath the perfect, pure, and beautiful skin,” wrote Galloway. “Some of the body parts are detached, tearing open her perfection to have a wave of static colors and butterflies seeping out of her openings. The disarray of colors and butterflies are to show her true feelings, having her safety mask of flawlessness ripped off of her like a band aid.
“The outward expression of the girl is melancholy as she is not able to come to terms with her flaws being on display for people to observe and judge. Unsettled by the fact that she has been found out for her true nature and for lying to those around her, as if she was well and happy. The girl is holding her hands close to her to try and comfort herself, bringing her body inwards more to curl up, yearning to be minuscule to the eye, having feared this day of judgment.” (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)
Portola High School student Quinzel Huang’s untitled ink drawing on paper. (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)
Carolyn Wang’s portrait of a boy with wire from University High School (Courtesy of University High School)
Crean Lutheran High School student Joshua Meyer’s pastel portrait.
Meyer was the first prize award winner of last year’s Irvine Fine Arts Center High School Art Exhibition, chosen by juror Chantal deFelice. After the exhibition, Joshua and his mom visited with Chantal in her studio, got to talk to her about her path as an artist and learned about pursuing art as a career.
Opportunities like that are one of the many ways that the Irvine Fine Arts Center hopes to serve their city’s budding artists — and to see these youths’ work evolve over time. (Courtesy of Irvine Fine Arts Center)