On May 9, Art Center Sarasota underwent a change, when its gallery walls were lined exclusively with hundreds of works by students, from kindergarten through 12th grade for the North County K-12 Spring Art Show.
High school and middle school students attended an awards ceremony on May 11, while during an extended hours night on May 16, elementary school students and their families turned out to view the artwork.
“It's a very strong show this year, for all grades,” said Debra Markley, a coordinator of the exhibition.
Gabriel Mirman, a 12th grade student at Sarasota High School, didn’t expect to become the recipient of the Esther Freeman Best in Show Award, having never been involved in an art class in the past.
His passion for enjoying nature provided the material he needed to land himself the recognition, thanks to a photograph he altered after having taken it in the alpine zone in the northeast.
“I was trying to design a piece about blending and absorbing, and turning into nature, and becoming one with nature,” he said, stating that the work was based on the Japanese idea of Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, which is defined as taking in the atmosphere of the forest in a meditative way.
The photograph features a mountain with mossy rocks, a hiker, and a rock cairn – a stack of rocks to help travelers find their way. He altered it by gradually selecting different areas of the photo and transforming them into wavy lines for a sense of flowing energy.
He also multiplied the hiker across four different parts of the photo and expanded the shape of the mountain.
“It isn’t common for photography to win the highest award, so getting this amount of recognition is pretty cool. Being able to express myself and move further as an artist, and getting that external recognition is validating,” he said.
He is currently attending a gap year program at Duke University, where he is headed in order to intertwine his art with environmental and marine science in some form, possibly by explaining scientific findings or engaging the community.
“It’s much easier to look at an art piece than a research paper. Creativity and the arts really need to work with sciences,” he said.
Veronika Khakimova, a 12th grade student at Riverview High School, said having been an artist since age 5, she is well aware of the problem of artistic burnout.
As a result, she decided to create an oil painting centered on the topic.
The painting features a female figure in the deep ocean, holding a brightly glowing orb.
“As an artist, I go through a lot of artistic burnout," she said. "The deep ocean we haven’t really discovered and we don’t really know what’s out there, but we still know that it’s there — wild creatures and things like that."
The brightness of the orb represents that creativity never really leaves the artist, but which they must find “by diving in for it," she said.
Khakimova said she was shocked that her work resulted in her receiving a $10,000 scholarship to Ringling College of Art and Design, alongside Booker High School student Samantha Tanelli.
“I’m very grateful that I was able to have the opportunity from the teachers for this,” she said.
Andrea Gonzalez, a 12th grade student at Sarasota High, said she was surprised to win the second-place award for nonfunctional ceramics, having never created a ceramics piece in the past.
However, given the assignment to create one featuring something in the natural world and including the use of coils, she readily chose on an octopus.
“I like the ocean, I find it really nice. Octopuses are so pretty — their color,” she said. The subject also allowed her to use a sea sponge for the pinch pot, another required component.
She said as she was creating the piece, which required her to roll out the tentacles individually and fix them onto the head, the tentacles would repeatedly collapse, but she persisted for two weeks.
While she said she was happy with the result, she wished she’d had the chance to make its texture even smoother, removing all imperfections.
“Other than that, I’m really proud of it,” she said.
It wasn’t only her own effort that made it a success, she also said, but also the efforts of her teacher, Alicia Loomis.
“Ms. Loomis is a really great art teacher,” she said.
Gonzalez said now that she’s discovered the art, she feels inspired to someday open a business that sells ceramics. Whether she will become a sculptor herself remains to be seen.
“I’m just going to let time do its thing,” she said.
Amelia Nickel-De La O
Lindsey Nickel said her daughter Amelia Nickel-De La O, a first grade student at Ashton Elementary, has provided her with artwork that lines the walls of her office.
“All of her animals come to my office,” she said.
When assigned to draw a bear that was sleeping, Nickel-De La O decided to bring the creativity she uses each day to the piece to make it stand out. She said with her “best work” and “inspiration,” she tried including different colors, including orange, with a checkered pattern for the bear's bedspread.
The end result was a drawing that received the Best in Class award.
She said she was happy with the final drawing herself.
“It made me sleepy,” she said.
“She was shocked – she looked at it for awhile and then she hugged me,” said Nickel, who also said it was important to honor younger artists.
“I am profoundly proud of her,” she said. “I think that it's really important that we value our children's creativeness, so I love that she got an award for it.”
She said the exhibition provided an excellent chance to see art from all grade levels.
“It’s really nice to see all of the art represented at every age range, and to see how their creative minds are interpreting the projects they are given,” she said.
Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.