Alexander Calder. Robert Motherwell. Paul Camacho.
Ian Chow. Alexander Dempster. Lily Wickersham.
The first three are celebrated artists. The latter trio is a group of high school students from Wilton who currently have their artwork exhibited in the same museum galleries as their famous counterparts, and are featured in the current exhibition at MoCA Westport titled “Who Are You When You Are Dreaming,” the 2023 High School Art Exhibition.
Every fall, MoCA Westport (located just beyond the southeastern border of Wilton) sends out a call for entries to art teachers in public and private high schools in Connecticut and nearby New York. A group of volunteer teens works with the museum’s staff to organize and install a few hundred submitted works, usually presented salon style in order to accommodate the number of pieces. The student artists get actual experience in how to sequence, position, hang and label the disparate entries; this year’s exhibition includes drawing, painting, collage, video, fashion, sculpture and ceramics. Three of the entries are from the talented Wilton teens.
Chow, a junior at Pierrepont School in Westport, responded to this year’s prompt, ‘Who Are You When You Are Dreaming,’ by submitting a self-portrait composed of multiple perspectives made from gestural brushstrokes. His earliest art-making began at another nearby arts institution, the Silvermine Arts Center. He has since been inspired by his school’s art faculty. Ian’s painting explores the idea of dreaming as an exploration of one’s inner selves.
The layering of acrylic paint and the confusion (or even discomfort) in the composition was important to Chow as it represents the complex aspects of one’s personal identities.
“We often feel like we have no control over our dreams, ourselves and our lives. I wanted this work to embody unrestrained chaos so that we can acknowledge the beauty of disorder,” he said.
Wickersham and Dempster are both seniors at Wilton High School.
Wickersham’s interest in fashion motivated her to submit a dress constructed entirely from found materials including coffee filters, rope and paper. Her dress — presented on a dressmaker’s form — is the focal point in the gallery — partly because of its scale and position in the space, but also because of its compelling shape, textures and craft.
photos by Pamela Hovland
“I was inspired by a piece from Alexander McQueen’s fall 2006 collection because the draping reminded me of coffee filters,” Wickersham explained. She came up with her own interpretation constructed entirely from unconventional materials. She hopes viewers notice the creativity in the work and are able to see all the effort and time she put into making it. In the meantime, Wickersham is deciding between three fashion programs for her post-high school education.
Dempster’s short video is projected in a small gallery meant for viewing film. Influenced by the grainy quality of old VHS technology, he experimented with a mash-up of various image-making strategies that were, in his words, completely out of his comfort zone (he more frequently edits sports videos for Wilton High School).
Through typography, drawing, animation and live action filming, he addresses the serious and complex issue of bullying. In using enigmatic juxtapositions, Dempster wants the viewer to slow down, unpack the various (and often quirky) fragments and consider the impact of words and actions.
Vintage technologies. Instagram, TikTok and YouTube. The music of Paramor and Water Park. Films by Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson. Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and the Punk scene (and the popular 2022 Punk exhibition at MoCA Westport). Artificial Intelligence as well as the hand-made. Playing the piano. These are just some of the sources that Chow, Dempster and Wickersham relied on for inspiration while realizing and making art.
All three acknowledged the importance of their creative practice and the benefits of exposure to all forms of artistic production. They value art education and the communities that prioritize it.
What does it mean for these students to have their work on display in a public venue, where other artists, art critics, art lovers and even art patrons see what they have contributed?
“I’m very honored to have my piece featured at Westport MoCA,” Wickersham said. “Having my art displayed has allowed my work to be noticed by many people. I’m glad I am able to share what I’ve imagined and then created with others.”
Dempster agreed. “The opportunity to have my work featured here is unmatched. I was fortunate enough to have work in two other past high school student art exhibitions and I’ve seen how every show since then has grown exponentially. I’m grateful for the opportunity MoCA Westport continues to provide for young artists in the area.”
Chow believes that art is critical to our society, that it helps ground us. “Making art and making it public offers us the ability to engage in a worthwhile conversation using a language without words.”
‘Who Are You When You Are Dreaming’ is on view at MoCA Westport (19 Newtown Turnpike, Westport) until Feb. 26. During your visit, make sure to check out the Camacho, Calder and Motherwell in the adjacent galleries. They were once young artists too.