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Howard students look at art, themselves in creating self-portraits

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Students from the public high schools in Howard County sure did their homework in preparing for "Artists Inspiring Artists: Self-Portraits" at the Columbia Art Center. That's because they studied the work of well-known artists and then used it as the source of inspiration for the exhibited self-portraits.

The student artists have texts accompanying their artwork that explain their specific inspirational sources and also how they individually approach the creative process.

Old Master painters from Europe inspired some of these young masters. Helen Olmstead, a junior at Wilde Lake High School, has a chalk pastel titled "My Fancy Hat" that resembles Peter Paul Rubens' painting "The Straw Hat." In both cases, showy hats frame a woman's face.

Similarly, Rachel Newkirk, a senior at Wilde Lake High School, displays a chalk pastel "Self-Portrait with Cap" that emulates Johannes Vermeer's painting "Portrait of a Young Woman." Newkirk's big smile and wide-open eyes resemble those of Vermeer's young woman.

The 20th-century Mexican artist Frida Kahlo liked to do painted self-portraits in which the straight-on presentation of herself was set against schematically rendered natural scenery. Erin Hill, a freshman at River Hill High School, does something similar with her colored pencil "Self-Portrait." The green leaves behind her are especially robust.

The contemporary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama loves to do paintings in which the imagery is defined via colorful dots. Likewise, Elsa Flike, a junior at River Hill High School, has an oil painting titled "I'm Covered in Dots" in which her face consists solely of definitional dots.

Among the photographers in this exhibit, several are extremely faithful to their sources. Riley Lewis, a sophomore at Reservoir High School, has a black-and-white "Self-Portrait" inspired by a similar shot by the contemporary American photographer Lee Friedlander.

There is a technological difference in the images, however. Whereas Friedlander has his face partly concealed by an incandescent light bulb, Lewis has the bright idea of being up to date by having his own face partly concealed by a fluorescent bulb.

Josh Tulkoff, a senior at Wilde Lake High School, has a black-and-white "Self-Portrait" that's very close to contemporary American photographer Irving Penn's famous portrait of Pablo Picasso. Just as Picasso is shown wearing a formidable hat, Tulkoff wears a hat you're sure to notice.

Devin Walker, a senior at Mount Hebron High School, was inspired by contemporary American photographer Cindy Sherman. Just as Sherman makes untitled self-portraits in which she assumes various identities, Walker has an untitled black-and-white photo in which he stands in an ordinary-looking bedroom and has his hands placed over his lowered head.

As Walker writes in the accompanying text, he is portraying a "distressed businessman." He'll have plenty of time for that later in life. For now, he should get through high school.

"Artists Inspiring Artists: Self-Portraits" runs through Jan. 31, at the Columbia Art Center, in Long Reach Village Center, 6100 Foreland Garth, in Columbia. Call 410-730-0075 or go to http://www.columbiaartcenter.org.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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