Behind the palette: student artists take on deep subjects at weekend exhibit

By Angie Hilsman | Mar 19, 2017
Photo by: Angie Hilsman Dartmouth High senior Matthew Gonsalves looks at his own display.

To circle the Russells Mills Schoolhouse on Saturday was both haunting and awe inspiring.

Watercolored and penciled images of cheetahs shedding fur and flesh, cigarettes burning through a cheek, and green army gear contrasted against the tan map behind it were a few images adorning black backdrops for the high school's AP Art exhibit.

"My concentration is the strength of the human spirit," said senior Matthew Gonsalves, explaining pieces touched with army camo, dog tags, and machine guns.

His favorite of his pieces is titled "Locked up." It portrays a human heart, layered in chains, and a lock that isn't really containing anything.

"The heart is probably the strongest part of your body. It's where courage comes from," said Gonsalves. The piece is about breaking through your obstacles, he explained, adding that he was inspired by his own experience of returning to football despite three hip surgeries.

The 21-student class will have to submit 12 pieces of themed work, along with 12 pieces of "breadth," or pieces that display various technique, to the AP board in May. The art exhibit served as motivation for students to finish off pieces before the deadline and show off their progress, said Teacher Christine McFee.

"Seeing the show up with no one here but us, I was like 'This looks really good,'" she said, adding that the snow day jammed up the class's preparation time for the weekend exhibit.

Students displayed various mediums — including oil pastels, water colors, and colored pencil — for the exhibits, but it was their subject matters that were more hard-hitting.

Senior Jordan Sparks' pieces include a Sweetheart box full of cigarettes, a crossword puzzle that reads "[expletive] you" in sign language, and multi-colored wrists stamped with barcodes.

"All of my pieces sort of show something strong, but you have to read into it," said Sparks, whose theme was human reaction.

Although she prefers to use tempera paint, her piece titled "Exploitation" is in colored pencil and newsprint. It's a statement on human trafficking, with the research to back it up.

Sparks explained that she researched the countries with the highest human trafficking levels, but used a variety of skin colors to show that the problem exists everywhere. Even the numbers under the barcodes are written in each country's native language — which includes English, Chinese, and Thai, she said.

"The articles pasted in the back of them were pretty hard to find," she said. Sparks said the issue doesn't get enough attention.

Sparks plans to use art in her career, but hopes to also keep it as a hobby. As of right now, she plans to study communications and advertising at San Diego State. Gonsalves will head to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy next year.

"Dark days" by Courtney Greenspan, made of tempera paint and acrylic. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
"Breath of death" by Re'gan Goyette, made of watercolor. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
"Touch of conversion" by Re'gan Goyette, made of colored pencil. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
Dartmouth High senior Jordan Sparks holds up her piece, titled "Exploitation," which is comprised of colored pencil and newsprint. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
"Untitled" by Bianca Lasio, made of oil pastel. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
"Cabochon" by Serena Turner, made of watercolor. (Photo by: Angie Hilsman)
(Left) Alivia Pimental uses oil pastel to create landscape drawings that she hopes evoke a sense of calm and peace. (Right) Madeline Pimental explores patterns that are naturally found in animals, and alters colors and shapes to allow the viewer to see the animals in a new light. (Courtesy of: Dartmouth Public Schools)
Grace Sylvia interprets The Beatles' songs with illustrative and colorful designs that draw the viewer in to explore the details found within. (Courtesy of: Dartmouth Public Schools)
(Left) Hannah Leavitt’s focus is on people who make a difference in her life. (Right) Jordan Sparks uses both literal and figurative imagery to convey human reaction and emotion. (Courtesy of: Dartmouth Public Schools)
(Courtesy of: Dartmouth Public Schools)
Inspired by her love of animation, Serena Turner's drawings develop a narrative piece about Arlo, a boy living in an advance inter-galactic future, who discovers a vessel for a dying boy from far in the past. (Courtesy of: Dartmouth Public Schools)
James Cousens uses simplified design, mostly in ink and paint, to convey messages that are large, important, and complex. Topic examples include love, peace, pride, and individuality. (Courtesy of: Dartmouth Public Schools)
(Courtesy of: Dartmouth Public Schools)
Hanna Rabstejnek used oil pastels to investigate the idea of mental illness, the effects of the illness, and how they may be perceived in different situations. (Courtesy of: Dartmouth Public Schools)
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