Festival Art Gallery's Student Show draws massive opening night crowds
BY SCOTT STEPHENSON
The opening of the Blyth Festival Art Gallery Student Show took place at the Bainton Gallery in Memorial Hall on Friday, April 14, showcasing works by students from the Avon Maitland District School Board and the Huron-Perth Catholic District School Board.
On opening night, the gallery was packed with students, family members and art aficionados admiring a wide variety of weird, wild and whimsical works. The show featured paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures, presented in a range of different mediums. “It just gives them a chance to show what they can do,” said excited parent Sue James. Another patron chimed in, positing that in the images displayed “there are thousands and thousands of words being said tonight.”
Upon entry, one was met by Emmy VR’s (St. Anne’s Catholic Secondary School) “Cute but Creepy” - a bold bust oozing toothy, glam, nightmare vibes that lets gallery goers know they were in for an absolute treat of a show.
One of the most joyous things about this exhibit was the sheer variety in the work. There were 100 pieces on display, each one a doorway into its own world. Noel Hallman’s (Goderich District Collegiate Institute) “Intake” vibrated with wounded enthusiasm just a few inches from “Knowledge of Nature” - a serenely balanced bust of human merging with nature created by Kara Small-James (St. Anne’s Catholic Secondary School). Small-James was very enthusiastic about having work in the gallery. “It’s really cool… you just make it for yourself.”
Skeletons were the subject of a number of works, but even within that framework, there was a great deal of variety. Lily Verbeek’s (F.E. Madill Secondary School) “Forever Connected” was hauntingly sweet, a clear contrast to Grace Smith’s (F.E. Madill Secondary School) freaky, floral, “Heartsnatcher,” while Lorna Finkbeine’s (South Huron District High School) “Playful Tiger” felt like a prehistoric play on Lisa Frank.
There was a panoply of pieces with animals as their subjects - domestic, wild and imagined. Marissa Wagler’s (Listowel District Secondary School) “Pastel Tiger” would be right at home at the hippest of coffee shops, while Jordan Partridge’s (St. Mary's District Collegiate and Vocational Institute) “Untitled” self-portrait with their pet cat Mavis truly captured the transformative effect pets can have on people. Wesley Beland’s (Central Huron Secondary School) lively “Dragon” may have been used in promotional materials for the event, but that didn’t make it any less exciting to see in real life.
Beyond the two-dimensional, there were a bevy of striking sculptures. Two stand-out pieces, very different on the surface, were both by St. Anne’s Catholic Secondary School student Madison Stevens. The first, the minimalist figure “Fight or Flight”, caught the eye as soon as one entered the room, while the more subdued “Two Sided” - a shiny, scale model building, offered the audience an interactive, remote control light display.
Strong portraiture skills depicted emotive faces in numerous styles, from the classical elegance of Ella McRae’s (Goderich District Collegiate Institute) monochromatic “Pretty in Pink,” to the introspective, pensive pencil-work of Merieke van Lierop’s (St. Mary's District Collegiate and Vocational Institute) “Ava”.
Waiting in one corner was the unsettling ink mystery entitled “Herman Moore” - a stark, brooding child brought to life by Sarah Dyet (St. Mary's District Collegiate and Vocational Institute). In another corner stood “STAR” - a pop-art skateboard deck brought to life by Hailee Phelan (Stratford District Secondary School).
There were two striking relief prints on display - Dania Roswell’s “Raven King” and Olivia Decker’s “Tea Cups”. Both students came from Central Huron Secondary School, and both pieces had clear commercial appeal, whether they be produced as high-end greeting cards or offered up as potential tattoo designs for lucky clients.
Not just an opportunity to showcase their work, the show was also a chance for the students to sell their art. “DVD Fish”, a shimmering, recycled media rainbow koi by Marissa Wagler (Listowel District Secondary School) sold quickly, as did a number of other pieces. Whether or not they wanted to sell their work was left up to the students, and many of the young artists chose to label their work “NFS” or “not for sale”.
Nouveau pop-culture icons peppered the gallery, to the delight of younger patrons. Dallas McDougall’s (F.E. Madill Secondary School) “Venom Snake” captured the tragic, convoluted origins of its subject, and Faith Richter’s (Central Huron Secondary School) clay bust “Captain Spaulding” could have sparked a bidding war amongst the splatter-cinema set, had the work been for sale.
There were a number of clear crowd favourites, including Dorian Marks’ (Stratford District Secondary School) masterful, Goya-esque “The 42%” - a piece whose name had many guests asking questions. Jorja Jane Kirkpatrick’s (Listowel District Secondary School) playful, Polaroid-inspired painting “Dumpster” may have been one of the smallest works in the show, but it made a big impression with people. Also popular was Avery Durand’s (Stratford District Secondary School) “Apricot Glow”, a landscape overflowing with retro colour and spirit. “I just love art so much,” exclaimed an ebullient Durand after the show.
The show was collectively curated by teachers from area schools, and organized by volunteers like Kelly Stevenson, Exhibition Chair for the Gallery, who also provided an impressionist punch and an interactive popcorn exhibit that was a big hit with guests of all ages.
A handful of well-deserved prizes were doled out by Gil Garratt, Artistic Director of the Blyth Festival, who advised the students to “keep making art, your work is beautiful.” Even though Decker, Wagler, Durand, Small-James, and Meghan Hymus (St. Mary's District Collegiate and Vocational Institute) were declared winners, it was hard to feel the energy of appreciation for all the evening’s local, up and coming talent and see anything but a room full of winners - winners, and really cool art.
The Student Show is open to the public until May 5, and the gallery is expanding its hours for the next two Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to meet popular demand.