It’s 11 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, and the third bus parks at the Springville Museum of Art. A high school field trip to an art museum could be made up of expressionless bodies who boarded the bus because it means an excused absence in science or math class, but not these high schoolers. Students move from one exhibition room to another, as though on a scavenger hunt, scanning, looking … until finding … it… and then, taking a selfie. More than 300 works, and there it is! With only a third of submitted entries making the cut, the energy and excitement of this scavenger-like spectacle permeates Springville’s 51st Utah All-School Art Show.
Established “to honor the best high school artists in the state for their talent, originality, and enthusiasm,” this exhibition takes place every year in Utah’s first art museum, housed in a Spanish-colonial building dating back to 1927. This year’s panel of judges, who examined nearly 1000 entries by juniors and seniors from high schools all over the state, were tasked with evaluating the best in technical skill, composition, design and concept development. Upon completion of the task, the judges asserted that while curating the exhibit, they felt “overwhelmed by the quality of art work.”
An acrylic work by Kelsi Kinder, which received Best in Show for 2D work, exemplifies exactly what the judges sought. At first glance, Kinder’s work appears to portray just a table with tools and random items strewn all over it. Because the composition is congested and busy, it’s difficult to know where to look first – it’s not the typical still life. However, because it’s not the typical still life, Kinder’s painting invites a second look. Titled “It Was His Time to Go,” it isn’t about the things on the table, but, instead, is a memorialization of the tragic recent passing of Kinder’s father. “People kept telling me that it was his time to go,” the artist says in her statement. But, she wonders, “Why would he leave unfinished projects if it was his time?” Just an 11th grader at Utah Arts Academy in St. George, this young artist accomplishes what seasoned artists seek, a second look and consideration. Furthermore, she gracefully invites the second look in spite of the raw pain that accompanies the loss of a loved one.
These high school students explore other serious themes, such as depression, anxiety, and loneliness; most impressive is the way they treat the popular themes of portraiture and identity, the themes most entreated at this year’s exhibit. The artworks and artist statements tell stories, revealing layered explorations of these common, timeless themes with sub themes of relationship, heritage and the appreciation of little moments. Consequently, many of these young artists harmonize tradition to their own life experiences, maybe an attestation that our Utah students are waking up from the personal and social effects of 2020.
Tabatha Pettit illustrates this awakening in her acrylic painting, “Migration.” Using easy hues of blue, she depicts a sea of people moving together — no masks by the way — towards an unknown goal. In her statement, Pettit says, “This piece is meant to be a reestablishment of human connection … we may never be the same as a society … we have the possibilities that a new day holds.”
These possibilities show up in the most ordinary ways in many works, including West High senior Alessandra Meecham’s portrait of a young man drinking from a straw. “A Moment in the Sun” uses layers of watercolor to celebrate an everyday moment — a cold drink on a hot day. Other mundane celebrations from these young artists include: a nap on a couch, an egg frying, a cuddle with a loved one, a house in the snow, and putting on a bicycle helmet. All cleverly interlaced into traditional art themes.
Perhaps deciding a high school art show over a downtown museum is like choosing chicken nuggets over chicken cordon bleu, but these Utah high school students are the future artists who we may someday stand in line to see. The conversations they introduce concerning life struggles, identity, and the banal, are beyond their years, with a simplicity uninhibited by an adult lens.
51st Annual Utah All-State High School Art Show, Springville Museum of Art, Springville, through Mar. 24
Sandra Houghton is an artist and art educator in Utah County.
Categories: Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts
Thank you for doing a story on our great young artists. As the new Associate Director of the SMofA I was in awe of the talent that came in from over 1000 high school artists this year. The insights, stories and emotions that were shared are well beyond their years. I highly encourage the public to come before it closes on March 24th.
This takes me back to the 20th century and the discovery that Young Fiction novels were better than what the so-called adults were reading. Those readers finally able to choose for themselves read about serious matters that they know they face, lying in wait for them, while their elders go for escapist fantasies that allow them to dodge their problems. Too bad they also avoid their responsibilities. If teens ran the world, maybe the Salt Lake wouldn’t be dying. Thank you to Sandra Houghton for showing us the brilliant young artists who every day expand on this trend.