The Advanced Placement (AP) Studio Art program at New Paltz High School sets the bar high. By the end of the school year, the highly motivated art students enrolled in the college-level course will have challenged their previous assumptions about making art and completed a substantial portfolio of work suitable for college admissions. Some will even earn a college credit from the AP College Board in the process. But to thrive in the program, it’s not enough just to have artistic talent, says instructor Laurene Pountain. “A good work ethic and the ability to take initiative are just as important. It’s a lot of work, and the students need to be willing to put in the necessary time and effort.”
This month, the ten students in the 2016-17 AP Studio Art program are exhibiting a sampling of their work on the walls of Redstart Coffee at 184 Main Street in New Paltz. The show remains on view through June 30.
The works by Cameron Cherry, Iszy Szemcsak, Gabriel Allibone, Lia Kucera, Morgane Kuyl, Riley Gibson, Blake Olsen, Elizabeth Eriole, Emily Denno and Fiona Weinstein demonstrate the cultivation of sophisticated visual sensibilities in this group of 17- and 18-year-olds. (As one visitor wrote in the exhibit’s guest book, “I didn’t realize these were by high school students. I thought they were from SUNY New Paltz.”)
Each student artist has developed a distinctive voice here. They work independently during the second semester on a portfolio of 12 works exploring a theme of their own choosing, so the subject matter varies quite a bit, as does the styles employed.
Cameron Cherry’s colored pencil work, “Underwater,” is an enigmatic drawing with fluid, painterly qualities. The viewpoint is fully underwater, opposite a swimmer whose face is still above water level, obscured, so not quite visible to us as we look up toward the surface, refracted light from above rippling through the water. It’s technically well rendered, with an attention to subtle patterning and detail here, but it also hints at something deeper, at concepts of identity and things going on under the surface. Cherry’s ability to create dense patterning and interesting interlocking shapes is also visible in the artist’s digital media piece on display, “Succulent,” which works as a stand-alone piece but would also make a wonderful textile design.
The digital collages by Iszy Szemcsak were created using images from the online archives of Life magazine and lifestyle publications of the ‘50s and ‘60s. She plays with scale, seamlessly integrating each element in her collages to make works that come across as both witty and visually interesting. The viewer can make up their own meaning; Szemcsak says she’s not really trying to give any messages with her work but just playing with ideas and images. “Suburban” depicts a smiling woman with a cigarette, larger in scale than the typical mid-century neighborhood she looms over, like the sun rising behind it. (Being old enough to remember the ‘60s and the restricted roles for women then, it’s tempting to read the image as her rising above the banality of her surroundings.)
Another work by Szemcsak titled “Roundabout” juxtaposes an image of teenagers at a slumber party, wearing pajamas and sitting in a circle playing records. That indoor domestic scene is suspended in an aerial view overlooking a city below, the circles of vinyl and the circle the girls sit in played off against the idea of a traffic roundabout.
Other works in the show include three digital media prints by Gabriel Allibone. “Morals” is evocative of the best graphic novels out there these days, telling a story without a word through three integrated panels. There’s a watchful eye, a hand reaching for a pendant on a hook and then a person walking away.
Blake Olsen’s four-by-six-foot acrylic painting “Allibone” depicts a young man (perhaps his classmate Gabriel?) standing on a street corner facing away from the viewer. The painting is rendered in a vivid color palette of pink sky and teal pavement that, combined with the painting technique used, gives it a strong expressionist vibe.
Riley Gibson exhibits a sensitively drawn pointillist pen-and-ink work of an animal skull, and Elizabeth Eriole contributes a delicate watercolor of a nude seen from behind in the tradition of a classic life drawing figure study. Watercolor-and-ink studies by Morgane Kuyl are from her themed series exploring the idea of what would happen if a city were overtaken by some kind of growing plant material, and Lia Kucera’s mixed-media “High Tide at Utah Beach” presents an image of internalized contemplation, as does Emily Denno’s woodcut-like reduction print “Vanity.”
Fiona Weinstein exhibits two evocative and boldly painted oil-on-canvas portraits, a two-headed woman in “Entitlement,” and a woman silenced in “Internalized.” The works are from her themed series on “string,” which she says she interpreted more literally at first, with ideas based on “cloth” and “untied,” but became more abstract references by the end of the year, when these two works were painted.
The AP Studio Art program was started by now-retired New Paltz High School art teacher, Mary Rappleyea. Laurene Pountain, now in her 17th year of teaching art at the high school, took the program over five years ago. “We’re very fortunate to be so supported by principal [Barbara] Clinton,” she says. “We’re also fortunate that we live in a town rich in art. The students tend to be supported [in their efforts] at home, too.”
The process for a student to get into AP Studio Art begins in the spring semester of their junior year with an interview and portfolio review. This year the AP class had ten students, while other years have had 12 participants and next year’s class will have 16.
The program begins in September with the “breadth” section, in which students are encouraged to try new techniques and work out of their comfort zone. Students create 12 pieces in any style and medium in response to rather erudite prompts that require research on the part of the students. The prompts expose the students to fine art traditions that include the golden ratio, trompe l’oeil and vanitas symbolism.
In January the students begin work on the final portfolio of 12 works exploring a self-chosen theme. Students in the class are eligible to submit five works at the end of the year to the AP College Board, which determines if a college credit will be awarded to the student based on the work they did.
The show at Redstart Coffee — formerly Moxie Cup — is on view during shop hours through Friday, June 30. Some of the works are for sale, with four pieces already finding a buyer; check the guest book for prices.