Photo of Matthew Milani’s artwork for AP Art. Milani created a clay sculpture of a screaming face coming out of a phone in theme with his chosen sustained investigation, which depicts the relationship between people and technology. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Milani)
Photo of Matthew Milani’s artwork for AP Art. Milani created a clay sculpture of a screaming face coming out of a phone in theme with his chosen sustained investigation, which depicts the relationship between people and technology.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Milani

Ten York students honored for creating art amidst a year in the dark

April 14, 2021

This Wednesday marked the beginning of the Illinois High School Art Exhibition Virtual Experience, which is a five-day event honoring art students from over 100 high schools from across the state. Having already received a combined $1 million in scholarships, ten of York’s own art students–seniors Mallori Hecker, Brianna King, Martina Lepicki, Elena Martinez, Addison McClary, Matt Milani, Kayla Rask and Emily Ptak– will participate in artist workshops, college presentations and vie for the chance to have their art receive some of the state’s top recognition. 

Though much of the world has been on lockdown for the past year, these ten art studentsutilized every opportunity they had to be creative and express themselves emotionally through their artwork. The IHS Art Exhibition is one of the most highly regarded high school art events in the country, and over four thousand people are expected to attend this year’s virtual event through the Socio Event App. Despite the event not occurring in-person, receiving recognition is still a tremendous opportunity for the students who have worked hard on their work over the past year. 

“I would say the most rewarding part about my being honored would be the message behind it,” Ptak said. “I’m just happy that even in the world that we’re currently living in, people are able to see the light in themselves.” 

For the majority of the ten York students attending the event, the creative process for their work began with the ideas behind their AP Art portfolios. A daunting undertaking for any high school artist, the process begins with the artist picking an overarching theme that highlights multiple pieces within the portfolio. AP Art students devote much of their school year to developing their portfolio, and in this case, IHSAE honored many of the pieces the students put forth. 

“For AP Art we all kept a sketchbook where we put down our thoughts or ideas for future projects,” Milani said. “I use that to sort of keep my ideas together, but I also have an ongoing list of project ideas that I keep in my phone in case I suddenly think of something or see a post on Instagram or wherever that gives me an idea.” 

Some students have also taken examples from media, such as videos and articles, and incorporated that into their portfolios. This reference can make the work more relatable to an audience and make the subject matter of the portfolio more accessible and realistic to those viewing it. 

“I often start researching whatever my inspiration is,” McClary said. “Before every piece I watch videos and read articles about my subject matter so I can accumulate ideas and make sure that I’m portraying something accurately. Next, I go into Pinterest and look for compositional inspiration and for reference photos.” 

Though York’s annual art show in the Commons wasn’t possible this year, each of the students had ample opportunity to share their work with their teachers and classmates, which makes being honored at the IHSAE event special. Hecker definitely felt positive reciprocation of her work from her teachers, who sent her many congratulations on being honored. 

“The most rewarding part of being honored is probably seeing all the messages from my teachers congratulating me, because they are the ones I shared my art with the most,” Hecker said. “I love drawing and painting things for people and my teachers were a big part of that.” 

AP Art teacher Renee Kuharchuk speaks with pride about her student’s accomplishments in the IHSAE event, citing what a feat it is to be honored like this on a state level. Over the course of their years as York art students, she has helped her students grow more comfortable in their work and in expressing themselves through their pieces, which has been pivotal in their success this year. 

“Seeing my students grow over the course of their years at York has made me so proud of them,” Kuharchuk said. “They’ve all worked so hard and taken classes to push themselves in their artistic talent. The IHSAE event is such an amazing opportunity for students to showcase their work and experience what it’s like for professional artists participating in an exhibition. They are so deserving of this honor.” 

No matter what each of the ten students decide to pursue as a major in college, this experience has undoubtedly shaped the way they approach the many challenges and endeavors they face in everyday life. Especially given the pandemic’s limiting of interpersonal relationships, each one of these artists has had the opportunity to understand themselves on a deeper level and learn more about how they best work and function in such an activity. 

“Personally, I do not intend to major in art, but what I will say is that art therapy does fascinate me,”Martinez said. “I am interested in pursuing a career around mental health, and I believe that having outlets like art can benefit a person more than they even know. Art has taught me the importance of stepping away and looking at the world from a different perspective, one that has hope, color and love.”


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