In a little white gallery nestled in the heart of Coconut Grove, six Coral Gables Senior High students are learning what it means to be a working visual artist.
A midterm exhibition of their work, Is It Because I’m Not, was on view recently at the Lewis Arts Studio, 101 Grand Ave. in the Grove.
The exhibition – an eclectic mix of traditional pencil and charcoal sketches, mixed media collages, and sculpture – represents the culmination of four months’ work for the young artists under the tutelage of veteran mixed media artist Yanira Collado. The program is the brainchild of Arts for Learning, a regional art-in-education nonprofit that partners with local schools and community organizations.
For Collado, the goal has been to teach her students that art is an intensive, often research-driven, deliberate process.
“People think artists are kind of flaky, and don’t think, and just ‘produce’ work. But artists do a lot of work in order to produce art,” Collado said. “I want [my students] to be able to defend their work and make connections.”
Collado teaches her students how to draft artist statements, perform constructive critiques of each other’s work, and do research to understand the traditions and images they borrow.
They watch documentaries, write their own press releases, and even took a field trip to Art Basel.
Cassius Jackson finds inspiration in the mundane: he produced a juice box still life while in class, and a cartoon caricature of a tattooed man on a bus. And while he says he’s traditionally liked to work in a “cartoon, graffiti-style,” alongside Collado, he’s begun delving more seriously into portraiture.
Working off a sketch of a man’s mug shot, Michael Hernandez superimposed his own name, initials and date of birth .
His piece pays homage to the artistic skills his father – a graffiti artist – and family have helped him develop.
“My brother is a tattoo artist, and he’s been teaching me how to tattoo. I’ve been learning his steps and my Dad’s steps. [My father] is the one that taught me how to do these letterings,” he said.
Damiya Evans, too, makes deeply personal work.
“Sometimes I feel invisible, I like to party, I’m a people person, I’m at the age to where I can date, I don’t do drugs, they just … stand there,” Evans said, pointing to different elements on her mixed media self-portrait collage.
Arlis Dezayas draws inspiration from ancient China: one piece features koi fish, Chinese characters, and the yin-yang symbol.
But far from being a perfect circle, the yin-yang is marred by a few drips of paint. For Dezayas, this represents part of her evolution as an artist while in the program.
“It’s taught me to not be afraid to mess up my work. I used to be very precise with my work, I would draw scared, afraid to make […] mistakes.”