KEARNY — A wing of the South Building at Kearny High School filled with objets d’art on Wednesday, May 16. Dozens of visitors streamed through the hallways peering at paintings and photographs mounted on walls and ceramic sculptures displayed on shelves.
As they munched on pastries and refreshments, several students ensconced in a corner of the corridor offered up light music and songs.
And the artists mingled with the patrons as they nervously awaited the outcome of the judges’ deliberations.
It had all the trappings of a typical Chelsea, N.Y., art gallery and why not?
This was the environment of the annual Kearny High Art Department’s free art show which the department described in an official notice as “a culmination of the fine work the students have been creating throughout the year in AP Studio Art, AP Studio 3D Art (sculpture), ceramics and photography.”
It’s an event that the high school has hosted since at least 1986, one veteran art educator surmised.
However long the tradition has continued, the show never disappoints the viewer, no matter how casual, because there are always surprises in the diverse ways KHS student artists see their world.
Take, for example, “Book with Butterfly,” a ceramic piece whose creator Vanesa Gonzalez described her work as a “metaphoric self-portrait. “My name means ‘butterfly’ and I guess you could say I’m an open book,” she said.
Still, you probably wouldn’t have guessed that Vanesa — whose parents Maribel and Frank operate a local eatery — will be orienting herself for the business world: she’ll be studying finance when she starts her freshman year in September at the University of Tampa.
Another intriguing self-portrait by Tyler Monllor featured a terra cotta head whose eyes are shut. He said the work started as an unformed piece of clay that “didn’t mean much” at the outset, then morphed into a portrait of the artist.
“It means you shouldn’t judge someone by how they look,” Tyler explained. At the same time, the solid expression formed by the work’s face signals “my confidence.”
That could be partly the influence of his mom Marlies who, while attending Evander Childs High School in the Bronx, executed a 3-D clay version of Charlie Brown. “I’m so glad he has part of your artistic ability,” said Alberto, Tyler’s dad, as the pair checked out their son’s work.
They also took pains to point out that Tyler’s talents aren’t limited to the art world. Seems he’s an National Honor Society member with a 3.9 GPA and a medalist on the KHS track team. This fall, he’ll be enrolling at NJIT as an architecture major.
Kimberly Camacho, represented in the show with a self-portrait and portraits of family and friends, all paintings in oil, is primed to being her freshman year with a full scholarship to the Mason Gross School of Art at Rutgers University.
While the artist’s mom Judy is “hoping she’ll develop into something marvelous,” Kimberly offered a note of caution, saying her foray into serious art studies “could be difficult, with everyone focused on technology – you can forget about the art aspects.”
Family support was perhaps no more evident than for Maria Valdivia, who was accompanied to the exhibit by her parents Nilda and Oskar, grandfather Ruben and little brother Renato, a Franklin School fourth-grader.
Maria, who collected the coveted “Best in Show” award for her portrait “Diego,” had several oil paintings of friends in the exhibit along with a “work in progress,” as she put it, portraying the late KHS 2017 alum Adrian Velazquez in action as a soccer player. Velazquez, who played for the Rutgers University soccer team, was only 19 when he was killed in a traffic mishap in Delaware in March.
A relative latecomer to the art world, Maria said she took a painting class as a junior and this year, the instructor recommended her for the AP Studio Art class. When she starts classes at Union County College this fall, she’ll be taking time to update her portfolio and take stock of her artistic ambitions.