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Annual art show for Grinnell middle and high schoolers provides space for self-reflection, pride

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The Stewart Gallery at the Grinnell Arts Center is currently displaying a show comprised of student art from Grinnell Middle and High School. More than 300 local students created the art in classes covering multiple mediums including painting, drawing and photography.

Each piece of art in the show displays each student’s interests, which shine through even across similar assignments. One wall of the gallery is covered in rainbow paintings, each juxtaposed with a different black drawing in the foreground. The drawings show the diversity of student interests and values: themes range from pop culture to sports teams to nature.

Another wall displays pencil drawings of buildings lining a street. Though each student drew the same general skeleton of buildings, each piece becomes unique in the artists’ individual embellishments. In one drawing, a dragon breathes fire over the buildings as a giant severed hand appears to wander the street. Another shows the Goodyear blimp passing over the Eiffel Tower.

The high school art demonstrates an advanced application of the art skills practiced in middle school, with the extended freedom to explore more mature themes. A theme that emerged across the art is the acknowledgement and acceptance of the students’ own gender and sexuality. Multiple pieces incorporated LGBT motifs and imagery.

One student, Beck Reed, opened up about his recent experience of coming out as a transgender man. Reed has two pieces in the show focusing on his identity: “Trans Pride” and “Trans Men Are Real Men.” Both pieces incorporate the use of colors from the transgender pride flag: white, pink and light blue. “Trans Pride,” a painting of the transgender flag with the addition of tissue paper to provide a three-dimensional aspect, reflects Reed’s pride and relief in coming out despite the challenges.

“The work I made symbolized my identity and pride in the transgender community as well as the LGBT+ community as a whole. I am proud to be who I am, and I hope I can become a voice for those who are afraid of what their classmates and community would think of them,” he wrote in his Artist Statement.

Reed’s second piece focuses more on the hardship that he has experienced related to being transgender, including gender dysphoria and transphobic comments from others. The drawing shows a person with the transgender pride flag running down their face and with tape covering their mouth in an X. On the side, five pink speech bubbles taunt the subject with comments like “Is that girl a boy now?” and “You’ll never be a real man.” Across the middle of the drawing, in capitalized text outweighing that of the speech bubbles, is the title of the piece: “Trans Men Are Real Men.”

In addition to Reed’s self-reflective pieces on being transgender, other high school students created LGBT-themed art inspired by their own experiences and those of their friends. “Lux in Tenebris” by Logan Deppe presents a painted silhouette, bold against a contrastingly black background. The silhouette shows a featureless person’s head filling with water. From the top of the canvas, a large teardrop tinged with the colors of the rainbow appears to drip down into the head, creating a splash imbued with a rainbow.

“My motivation in making this was the splash of color falling into the abyss of different shades of blue and green. It was significant to the day in my life when I came out to my over conservative father. It was like a major weight was lifted off my shoulders and a drip of light fell into my brain that was full of darkness… Overall, this piece represents a very beautiful day in my life when I could finally be my true self,” Deppe wrote in the Artist Statement.

A third student, Sophie Tyler, created a drawing entitled “Love Within,” in which four hands, each decorated with its own colors and design, reach towards a heart in the middle of the piece. One hand is striped with the colors of the rainbow pride flag. Another is black and white with detailed ornamentation, the next has colorful and interlocking puzzle pieces and the final hand has a tie-dye effect with pastel colors. According to Tyler’s Artist Statement, the hands represent the LGBT community, Latinxs in the United States, autism and an overall diversity of people coming together as one.

Beyond issues of identity and diversity, many students explored subjects of mental health through their art. In Mackenzie Chappell’s piece “Addiction,” the artist utilizes black, white and grey to symbolize the darkness of mental illness. A figure sits, small, inside a pill grasped by two large fingertips. Surrounding the  fingers and pill is complete darkness, created through the use of black charcoal.

Though many students used their art to grapple with difficult situations, others use their art to celebrate things special to them.

Josie A. Davenport’s two paintings in the show honor a geographic location and culture important to the artist. Both paintings employ geometric shapes surrounded by color. In “The Tower,” referencing the Devils Tower in Wyoming, Davenport portrays the tower among nature, encapsulated within a diamond further surrounded by bright yellow. Davenport’s second piece, “I’ll Go With You,” shows two figures walking through a forest together, their backs to the viewer. A hexagon envelops the scene, with the rest of the canvas painted purple.

“I thought of this concept after looking through old pictures from the Meskwaki Annual Powwow that happened during August 2018 and it all clicked … I am completely in love with [the] concept of this piece, because of the connection to my family and culture,” Davenport wrote in the Artist Statement.

Other artwork in the show includes photography, collages and poems written by students. The show will be on display through March 7, when there will be a closing reception at 5 p.m.

Artists whose work was featured in the annual show touched on themes of identity and mental illness while also demonstrating art techniques that they learned in art classes. Photo by Sarina Lincoln.
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