A Matter Of Identity: High School Exhibition At The Parrish

Art in education is a favorite subject for this art critic; looking forward to the annual student art exhibits at both the Parrish and Guild Hall is, therefore, a particular pleasure. This year’s show at the Parrish mirrors the Museum’s previous presentation, featuring portraits from its permanent collection. Notable works by Fairfield Porter, Elizabeth Peyton and Larry Rivers, among others, hang on the walls as viewers enter, reminding us of the art of portraiture.

In the other rooms, student works take over, and surprisingly enough, they seem to fit in with the paintings by world-renowned artists. We don’t know exactly why because obviously the students’ techniques need years more of experience. Yet the images are sincere and succinct. And yes, the craftsmanship is even disciplined and often striking.

It took us awhile to figure out why the pieces are so good, and then it came to us: it is because they are so personal and introspective. Many of the portraits represent the students themselves and/or how they see their world. Simply put, the images signify their creators’ identity. Such identities are not only diverse but provocative as well, suggesting pupils with different lifestyles and world views, although we are only surmising this from what we see. Which leads to the idea that many works inspire us to create a “story” or narrative about the portraits.

Consider an imaginative self-portrait by Ross School’s Geige Silver that caught our eye first, with its dress made of paper. That dress motivated us to wonder why the student represents an identity through this particular medium. Bridgehampton’s Olivia Bono also used paper, along with oil and drawing, to delineate her image’s demeanor, and we pondered the same question.

We didn’t have to create a narrative for a video portrait by a Pierson High School student featuring the security officer, John Ali, who had fought in Vietnam and had been a New York City detective. He told his own story. Even so, his laid-back demeanor contradicted his unusual background, accounting for an intriguing concept: what a person appears to be isn’t always what lies beneath the surface. Here again, the subject himself was personal and insightful (a fact this critic can attest to, having worked with Ali for several years.)

Some portraits, including only a face with no background setting, like Southold’s Brittany Calderale’s work, were as detailed as the Pierson video where a person’s identity was definitive. Other portraits (from Eastport and Southold, respectively) were wish-fulfillment ones, where identity was associated with fantasy and glamour, like Alexandra Sherlock’s girl on a beach and Ria Anasagasti’s image recalling a graphic novel.

Students from East Hampton High School represented identity in an unusual way, including Ryan Fitzgerald’s sculptured head of a man resembling an archetypical figure from ancient times. To see our identity as an evolutionary one is indeed personal and introspective.

The High School Exhibition at Southampton’s Parrish Museum of Art will be on view until February 26. Call 631-283-2118 for information. www.parrishart.org.

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