Ask teenagers what they really care about and the response may be lots of rolling eyes.
Inject visual art, ask the same question and prepare to be astounded.
That’s been the experience of Coupeville High School teacher Tacy Bigelow each time her students enter work in the all-island juried High School Art Show that also includes Oak Harbor and South Whidbey.
Called “Art with a Message,” the exhibit is on display until June 9 at Bayview Cash Store.
Students’ school affiliations aren’t listed at the exhibit as a way to avoid any preconceived notions or stereotypes.
“Knowing the work will speak to a broad audience in our community brings out the best in my students,” Bigelow said. “I see a direct correlation between the strength of students’ art and the possibility of showing their work islandwide in a safe and appreciative space.”
In two classes, Integrated Art and Advanced Art, Bigelow spends the first semester preparing students to think conceptually as they learn various art production methods, such as drawing, painting and digital media.
The second semester, students aim to complete a project for the early May deadline of the exhibit that’s sponsored by the nonprofit Goosefoot.
The 44 students under Bigelow’s tutelage receive a grade and the chance to experience the creative process from conceptual design to gallery presentation.
“What is special about this show is the focus on student voice versus fine art skills,” she said. “The push to make their voice heard encourages my students to bring their “A” game to the process with many students reaching beyond their own beliefs about what is artistically possible for them.”
Cash prizes from $25 to $100 are awarded. Some pieces are for sale; 25 percent of the sale goes to a nonprofit organization of the student’s choice, the standard policy at Goosefoot’s Hub Gallery.
Allowing teens the chance to express feelings through art can be the start of tough conversations that have been avoided, said Langley resident Julie Glover.
“Teenagers need to know adults give a damn about what they think,” said Glover, who viewed the exhibit with friend Peggy Gilmer.
One photograph by Oak Harbor High School’s Emily Gouge, titled, “Look Closer,” shows a cell phone with a call being placed to “Suicide Hotline.”
Jesie Newsome, of Oak Harbor High School, displays a photograph she named “Rose.” Four images of the same woman’s face are arranged in quadrants. Subtle colors and different scenes of nature digitally created swirl in the woman’s hair giving the piece a seasonal effect of feelings.
Coupeville High School student Casey Rogers painted a 10- panel piece called “Unhinged Reflections.” Concerns that jump out from paintings, collages, sketches, photographs, poetry and ceramic works reveal a much different world than the one that Gilmer and Glover experienced coming of age in the 1950s.
“It’s just a fascinating eye into these students psyches, minds and hearts,” Gilmer said.
Some show a planet smothered by plastic, others depict people drowning in drug addiction. Many list tiny voices of doubt, indecision, depression and insecurity that nest inside their heads.
“So many have to do with self talk,” Glover observed. “It’s painful to read it and see how many societal messages they’re internalizing around self loathing.”
Emily Fiedler from Coupeville High School used trash collected on the beach to build a three-dimensional orca framed by driftwood wrapped in fish net titled “Detritus.”
A drawing by Mikey Fandrich of Oak Harbor depicts an insect with military camouflage coloring. His piece is called, “Nature vs. War: Cut Throat.”
“Plastic Explosion” by Jillian Mayne of Coupeville is a beautifully crafted piece showing a dim reality with a plastic veneer.
An impressive ceramic piece by Hannah Rogers of Oak Harbor High School, titled “In the Palm of His Hand,” can be found at the main entrance.
Upstairs, a three-dimensional mixed media by Coupeville’s Kalaysia Hart called “Consumed” shows tiny spoons, piles of pills and empty syringes with a backdrop of the Grim Reaper picking off addicts like ants.
A large painting depicts two African-American youth on the way home from school, one lies bleeding on the ground with a white police officer pointing a gun. By Ivy Leedy of Coupeville, it’s titled “Pain.”
“It’s just so much harder for kids these days,” Glover commented. “My life was like the movie, ‘Pleasantville.’ We all believed cops were our friends, we were the best country, the world was stable and democracy worked.
“Kids grow up today seeing all these institutions crashing and burning, so what do they believe in?”