© Jason Kerr
Kim Houghtaling, Director and Curator of the Art Gallery of Swift Current talks to students at the High School Art Show's Public Reception at The West Wing Gallery on May 7.
All great artists start somewhere, and for more than 70 high school artists, that somewhere was the West Wing Gallery, which opened it’s newest exhibit on May 7.
The exhibit features paintings, drawings and photographs from students around southwest Saskatchewan, as chosen by the galley’s director and curator, Kim Houghtaling.
Houghtaling picks the best pieces from works submitted by students as part of class assignments during the school year. However, good grades aren’t a guarantee that a specific piece will be chose for the show. Houghtaling says there has to be something about the piece that stands out.
“I’m not there to mark them on their assignment so to speak,” he explains. “The teacher has already done that. I have the joy, really, of going through the work and essentially watching for the expressive power in the work, how significant and how strong the compositions are and how dynamic the results are. I’m just choosing the works that really hit me.”
It’s a bit of a nerve-wracking experience for the students, all of which are in grades 10-12. For many of them, this is the first time their work has ever been publicly displayed, or critiqued.
“It’s very disconnected,’ Swift Current Comprehensive High School student Chloe Robitaille says. “It doesn’t feel like it’s mine anymore. It feels like it’s professional, not like something I did over a couple of weeks at school.”
“It’s just different when it’s up on the wall,” agrees fellow SCCHS student Jessica George. “It just doesn’t look the same as when it’s right in front of me and I’m working on it.”
However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t proud of their work. Both students say they’re glad they were chosen to display their pieces, even if they don’t look exactly as they want them to.
“I guess (it’s good) because someone managed to see that and still think it was good, and they put it in this room,” Robitaille says with a chuckle.
Many students feel an odd mixture of pride and embarrassment at the event, but that’s not uncommon, say their teachers. Constance More teaches visual arts at SCCHS, and she says most of her students are naturally shy and quite, so getting this kind of attention is a new experience for them.
“I think first and foremost they’re slightly embarrassed and I think that’s because they’ don’t quite know when they’ve done a really good work of art. They’re critical skills are not quite there yet, but once they see it up and once their friends start talking about it, then you can see that they’re pretty happy that it’s up.”
It’s not just up as a self-esteem boost either. More says these students have produced some genuinely good pieces that any art lover would find interesting. Even though the students are still relatively inexperience, their personality and creativity comes through.
In the end, Houghtaling says that’s the finding that creativity and personality is what makes it all worthwhile.
“That’s a really enjoyable thing to be able to do, and what’s always kind of magical about that experience is the idea that I find particularly outstanding work, and the work is so often significant for the struggle that the art student went through in the making of their project.”
The West Wing High School Art Show lasts until June 15th at Kinetic Park. The gallery is open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free.