Scholastic Art and Writing awardwinners talk art

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Olivia Knight, "Caught," from a Gold Key–winning portfolio. —Olivia Knight

Last week, the Boston Globe released the results of the 2017 Massachusetts Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Twenty students from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School were awarded honors for their creative accomplishments in writing, painting, photography, ceramics, and animation. The Times spoke to several of these awardwinning artists and asked them to elaborate on their creations and what inspired them.

Olivia Knight, senior

Gold Key for eight-piece Art Portfolio, “Behind the Masks”

When did you start photographing?

I got my start taking photography in freshman year of high school. My sophomore year, I got a concussion that made it hard to edit pictures on the computer. I started to edit by handwriting on my pictures, and that’s what got me started marking them manually instead of digitally. Once I got better I continued to edit this way. I continued shooting throughout high school, but at the start of my junior year I got another really bad concussion, and had to take a break from school. I would get really bored, so I took my pictures home and worked on my art while I was out of school.

What’s the story behind your winning piece?

For “Victimized,” I went around to students and faculty at my school and asked them to write down a word that someone has called them. I took these words and projected them onto my friend’s face and then photographed her. I included the tape on her mouth to show that you can’t really control what people call you and what they do.

Another piece is of my brother with his mouth open and his hair spiked up, and I drew on his eyes. This was the first picture I did after I got hurt. I was bored, and I thought it would be fun to draw on him. I kind of made it scary by drawing underneath his teeth to define the line of his teeth and how sharp they were. I thought he looked like a werewolf.

There’s another one of a boy lying on the grass, and there are flowers and plants, and he kind of looks dead. I didn’t intend for it to be scary when I photographed it, it just turned out that way. I turned it into black-and-white because it looked scarier that way. I whited out his eyes using white colored pencil and hot glue to make it shiny. I wanted people to look at them a couple of times and get weirded out, so that people could get a feeling.

What inspires your art? What themes, memories, or inspiration do you draw on when you create?

My art is kind of eerie. I’ve been fearful of things throughout my life. I can’t watch scary movies and stuff like that, so I think I like being able to control the scariness of something and make it myself. I started taking pictures to make them creepy to be in control of the fear.

Do you work with any other media?

I’ve taken other art classes, but not through school. I’ve painted pictures, which I donated through Featherstone to the parents of the Sandy Hook shooting victims.

Why is art important in your life?

My family is kind of artsy; my grandma is a musician and my family is close with a lot of artists, so I’ve grown up with that stuff around me. I’ve never been very school-minded, I think art just comes more naturally to me. Art is really meaningful to me. I’ve always been better at art than I have been at math, so I’m more drawn to it. It’s something that I would turn to if I’m bored.

What are your goals as an artist?

Right now I’m working on a senior project. I’m taking pictures of pieces of the Vineyard from now through the summer, and looking at erosion and plants. I’m interested in environmental issues and phenomena. I want to go to school to study both art and environmental issues. I applied to schools for photography and environmental issues, though I’m not sure where that would take me in the future.

Ava Thors, senior

Gold Key for Painting, “Fight for Intangible Reason”; honorable mention for Painting, “Bradford Beaver Yogi”

When did you start painting?

I’ve always loved art; I made my own birthday card invitations when I was 4 years old. I started to explore painting and throwing yourself into a project around sophomore year of high school. I got interested in oils and acrylics and working with materials you can manipulate as you go. My style is changing, but I have a style that I fall back on. I do caricatures of people with a message on a board, and it usually provokes people. I think I use that kind of style when I want to say something specific. I’m getting into working with color more.

What’s the story behind your winning piece?

It was sort of a spur-of-the-moment decision, it was not a project that my teacher assigned. The idea struck me when I went for a walk one day. I was thinking about the way we create art and the hopelessness of it. I’m trying to understand and process the things that I see. They occur none the less, and you can interpret that stuff all you want, but in the end all you can do is cover what you can and understand what you can.

What inspires your art? What themes, memories, or inspiration do you draw on when you create?

All of my work focuses on people and what drives them. There’s one piece I have that’s sort of the redundancies of Facebook profile pictures after the Paris attacks. A month before, there had been bombings in Ankara, Turkey, and no one said anything about it. Going forward, I want to focus on bringing to light the redundancies in our society and some of the things that I have an issue with, and how we deal with those things. I try to talk about stuff that interests me and bothers me. I think that one of the most important things you can do with activism is to not be afraid to talk about stuff, to bring it up at the dinner table. It’s crucial to our democracy to not worry about being PC.

Do you work with any other media?

I’m primarily a painter. I’ve been enjoying pastels lately. I have a few ideas of what I want to work on, but mainly I’m learning some more traditional methods so I can have a sophistication to my style that I don’t have right now.

Why is art important in your life?

For me, it’s something that I need to do. My mind is always going and picking up on things that people are saying and how they’re saying them. Art is just how I can interpret the world. When words fail, I can show people how I feel and what I think about it, more eloquently than with words.

What are your goals as an artist? What are you currently working on?

I’m applying to the Savannah College of Art and Design, the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and the Rhode Island School of Design. I’m not completely sure if I’m going to go to art school, though. Whatever I end up doing, whether I can sell my work or not, I want to apply my art to my work. Right now, it’s most important to me that I get technique down, and effectively put the picture I have in my mind on canvas or board. I want to get the translation down. I just started a mural that I’ll be working on for the next few months with a classmate of mine, Abraham Nunes. We’re going to be working on a mural in the Portuguese room of MVRHS to represent cultural unity in the Portuguese community.

Nolan Pavlik, sophomore

Honorable mention for Animation, “Among the Shadows”

When did you start learning animation?

I’ve been working with computers ever since I was 11 or 12. I got my first big-rig PC when I was 12, and had access to Sony Vegas and Photoshop, so I’ve always been messing with computer stuff and making videos for YouTube. Last year, I learned digital animation in a class with Ms. Todd.

I’ve done a little doodling here and there, but I was never the best at art. I’ve always found great pride in creating videos, though. Something about animation that speaks to me is that you don’t have to be good at art, you just have to make what you want to make. In animation, you can make anything.

What’s the story behind your winning piece?

The piece that won an honorable mention depicts a person walking through a crowded hallway in the school, and everyone is faded out so you can only see the one person walking back and forth and glitching. I wanted to give the sense that in our school system in the U.S., some kids get the feeling that they are one in the crowd and they don’t stick out. The point of my title, “Among the Shadows,” is that some people feel like they are just traversing through life like another shadow. My inspiration for this piece is that I personally struggle with the academic side of school, which gave me the idea to create this feeling through animation. I’m incredibly thankful to my teacher, Ms. Todd, at the high school. She encouraged me to enter my piece into the art awards. I was skeptical about it, since I typically think that everything I make is not that great, so I’m thankful for her for inspiring me to enter the competition.

What inspires your art? What themes, memories, or inspiration do you draw on when you create?

I follow a lot of art-related blogs on Tumblr and social media. Every once in awhile, I’ll see some really incredible and inspiring pieces that make me want to do something. Also, we have so many amazing photographers and videographers at the high school, it is quite inspiring.

Do you work with any other mediums?

I do a lot of videomaking, especially with my friends. I play a lot of video games, and I’ll film us doing that and I’ll add effects. I love editing videos because there’s so many things you can do. Animation is just one of a few things you can add into them.

Why is art important in your life?

Art is important in my life because I love being creative and I love expressing my ideas, and art is such a massive gateway to that. I play a lot of video games, and I’ve always been into the sandbox genre, where you’re given a palette to build things or terraform some sort of landscape. I’ve always been one to express my creativity through my hobbies. I’ve never been the greatest at traditional art forms, but I try to pursue it.

What are your goals as an artist?

My dream is to become someone who is part of the IT industry, and I’m interested in starting my own business. I’m also interested in refining my skills in animation to create my own artwork and logos for my own business. I would love to incorporate my own creativity into what I do in the future, and I’m absolutely going to continue pursuing animation.

Emily Gazzaniga, freshman

Gold Key in Photography, “Papa’s Daily Crossword,” honorable mention “Seahorse of Sengekontacket

When and how did you start photographing?

I have been photographing from the time I could first hold a camera. My passion for photography began when my parents bought me my first disposable camera on a trip to Italy. I was 4 years old at the time, and I have loved taking pictures ever since.

What is the story behind your winning piece?

The photograph “Papa’s Daily Crossword” was actually taken as a candid of my grandfather. He is currently 90 years old, and spends every morning doing the Boston Globe’s daily crossword puzzle. I captured this shot while visiting him one weekend. I feel that the photo really captures his essence, as a highly educated scholar and retired professor. I chose to photograph my Papa, of all people, because I look to him as a role model and all-around incredible person.

What inspires your art? What themes, memories, or inspiration do you draw on when you create?

I am constantly inspired by people, places, and cultures surrounding me. I personally find human life the most interesting to capture. I am constantly motivated to improve my photography and skill every day. Seeing myself improve is inspiration in itself.

Why is art important to you?

I think that art, or photography in particular, allows people to celebrate various races, cultures, landscapes, and expand people’s outlook on the world. Art is a form of expression that lets me creatively capture and share my surroundings with others. Often in photography, it’s the things you may ordinarily overlook or not see the importance in that make for the best work. I think there is a lot to be said for that.

What are your goals as a photographer?

My dream is to become a photojournalist, traveling the world photographing different subjects and writing. Hopefully this Gold Key will kick-start a future in the arts for me.