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The art room: a thriving community beneath our feet

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The art room: a thriving community beneath our feet

Art students work on portraits during Mustang Block.

Art students work on portraits during Mustang Block.

Art students work on portraits during Mustang Block.

Art students work on portraits during Mustang Block.

Sequoia Wyckoff

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Mason’s two art classrooms are distinct from the rest of the school. It’s an area most students have little reason to ever seek out – down the stairs, into the basement, fluorescent lighting, and concrete floors. And because of its isolation, it feels like some sort of oasis, every inch of every wall covered in color, with art students and their work spread across tables.

I met senior IB Art student Lara Riyad there during Mustang Block to talk about a project she did last year for the class.

“I decided to do a sculpture made entirely of plastic, in the shape of a turtle,” she explained. The sculpture, called The Killing, was made to call attention to the dangers of single-use plastic on the environment… [I put] a bunch of recycled single-use plastic on the project to show everyday items that people see and don’t realize is really doing damage to the world.”

A sculpture by Lara Riyad

The Killing by Lara Riyad. (Photo courtesy of Lara Riyad)

Riyad put a lot of thought into this piece – I remember her asking me last year to eat a mint from a bag she had just so she could use the plastic wrapper for her project.

“I spent over a week collecting everything,” she told me. “It ended up being a little more challenging than I thought because I didn’t want to buy plastic solely to use it – that’d be counter-productive.”

As we were talking, a group of girls walked in and sat down next to us in the art room, pulling out their sketchbooks and current projects. I asked Riyad about what it’s like to work with them in the classroom setting.

“We’re pals. We’re super supportive and we’re all friends.”

One of the girls who had walked in was Maeve Keating. When I asked her what she’s worked on in the past year, she said, “Well, I have the bee thing, that’s kind of what I’m known for.”

‘The bee thing,’ is, as pictured, a sculpture of a bee, covered in flowers.

A sculpture by Maeve Keating.

Queen Bee by Maeve Keating. (Photo by Sequoia Wyckoff)

The project was conceived from an assignment to create a piece of art, of any medium, about a social issue. She decided to create a sculpture made of mostly of flowers, styrofoam, and recycled mattress material, shedding light on the movement “Save The Bees.”

“I do have a lot of political opinions. But at the time of the project, it was right after Parkland. Everyone was doing theirs about gun violence, which of course is a really important issue, but I was just really sad about it, and I just didn’t want to make anything that would make you really sad looking at it. So I thought, why don’t I make something really pretty about a sad issue?”

Evidently, a lot of critical thinking goes into the work of IB Art students–so does inspiration from other artists.

Malina Krotzer, another IB Art student, created a series of four textured paintings called Nomad, inspired by a work of the same name by artist Annette Lemieux. Each of Krotzer’s paintings represents a time in Krotzer’s life, four years apart. As a foreign service kid, she’s moved a lot over the years, and the paintings represent her own movement and progression.

Alt text: Four textured paintings by Malina Krotzer.

Nomad by Malina Krotzer. (Photo courtesy of Malina Krotzer)

“I try to deal with emotions [in my art], that’s kind of the overall theme. In the first, I was trying to depict hopelessness. The second one was anger, the third one was a darker feeling, and the last one, when I was 16, was a stormy ocean, but it’s more peaceful. It explains my experience of my own mental health across time… this helped me work out where I started.”

“Most people don’t think about their mental health at four years old, but it was something I wanted to focus on.”

Margaret Akins’s art, inspired by graphic artist Moebius, is a little different–it’s derived less from symbolism, and more from instinct.

“Whatever’s in my head, I put on paper,” she said. “There’s a lot of freedom in the class,” she explained, showing me a piece called Paracosm, from last March, under an open assignment for which they could use any medium.

Painting by Margaret Akins.

Paracosm by Margaret Akins (Photo courtesy of Margaret Akins)

“It’s this imaginary, fantasy world. At home, I like to do stuff like that. It’s just stuff that comes straight out of my head.”

Riyad, Keating, Krotzer, and Akins are just four of the thirty-four students in IB HL Art this year. And each one of them told me about how inspiring and dynamic their peers were. Krotzer put it this way: “I get inspiration from my peers every day when I see them taking risks and trying something new.”

But aside from the IB Art Show at the end of the year, the work of IB Art students often falls under the radar at Mason. Mr. Robarge’s classroom isn’t an area of the school most students are familiar with, and that translates over to the inner workings of his classroom–there is a thriving, bustling community of artists creating meaningful and thought-provoking work, right under our feet.

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The art room: a thriving community beneath our feet