Portsmouth High School (PHS) hung a public display of art last week, depicting what the average PHS high school student looks like. The idea was proposed by New York artist Traci Molloy, who recently worked with the group on another project with similar practices.
The piece — entitled “I am. I will. I’m afraid.” — is hung on the east side of the old gymnasium in the athletic complex. It is a mesh of portraits of eight participating students to create one individual. It then has messages across the image in the students’ handwriting, answering the questions of who they are, what they will be and what they fear. The piece is a 12-by-16 foot print and is hung high for everyone to see on the upper part of the building.
Molloy currently has a gallery open at Rio Grande University, where her personal artwork is on display. She also framed and hung the students’ personal works that they created in their class with her. Students visited the University of Rio Grande Tuesday evening and viewed the gallery, and their own pieces, during a reception. This experience not only gave them an opportunity to view an artist’s gallery in a different setting, but to be recognized for their own work.
“I’m excited that they got to go to Rio Grande and see the piece in completion and take in the full experience,” Molloy said. “They’ve helped generate the work, helped print the work and now they get to celebrate the work. They not only get a giant version posted on the building, but the smaller version of it and their own prints in the gallery.”
Molloy asked that the student pieces be submitted in her exhibit, because student work is a large portion of what she does in her field. Molloy’s work is heavily involved in adolescent culture and often deals with kids who commit homicide, bullying and personal politics such as race, poverty and class.
“For me, this piece is about letting the youth here have a voice and a chance to share their ideas with the community. I wanted the student portraits to be compressed and text anonymous, which allows them to be very public but still very personal. The font is the same way, because it is in their own handwriting, but it is still anonymous and personal.”
April Deacon, art teacher of seven years at Portsmouth High School, is always looking for public art displays for her high school students and is happy to have the another opportunity to provide public display right across the street from the high school.
“I think this group of kids is pretty diverse, for sure, and I think it is such an interesting idea to combine them all into one image,” Deacon said about the project.
The last public project Deacon did with her student was the tape sculpture project last spring, where the students cast sculptures of themselves and friends out of clear tape and then placed them in various places of the community. The recent project offered the students an opportunity to make really personal work as well, which is something she likes to see in her students’ artwork.
“What I love most about the banner is that the words are very personal for the students, but I believe that they express things that many of our students are thinking and feeling,” said Deacon. “Couple that with the layered image of all of the students and it makes the message seem very universal.”
Tyra Underwood, senior, has been a dedicated art student all four years at PHS. Understood stated that she has taken three art classes a year and has retaken ceramics every year. She has taken every art class that Portsmouth has offered and says that art is a very important hobby to her.
Underwood said that the original project was one that was heavily affected by her mood. The first time she tried to complete the project, she said that she was feeling negative about herself and the portrait came out that way. The next day, she started over and the project ended up being something she liked and felt it represented her better.
Underwood is pleased with the final project and finds it interesting to see the mesh of all of their work together,
“I think it is all personal and about all of us.” Underwood said. “In a way, it is all very similar, because none of us want to be sad, like one of us used the term “I can see beauty in the darkness.””
Sharee Price, coordinator for gifted services the Scioto County Educational Service Center (ESC), did all of the legwork for the project. Price coordinates a lot of art opportunities for local students and was responsible for arranging the projects between Molloy, Rio Grande and PHS.
“It went great. I thought it was a wonderful experience for all of the students involved. They got real experience and information that they wouldn’t have gotten any other way,” Price said.
This project was funded by a grant from the University of Rio Grande.
Price works on developing three student art shows a year. The next show is titled “Visually Literate” and featured 50 juried pieces of top artwork completed by high school students. Visually Literate will run April 10 at the Southern Ohio Museum in the Richard’s Mehser.
More information on the ESC and the art programming that Sharee Price organizes can be obtained by calling 740-354-7761.
Joseph Pratt can be contacted at the Portsmouth Daily Times 740-353-3101, EXT 287, or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.