In Keaton Bruce’s mixed-media painting “I Think I’m Thinking,” several faces with piercing stares gaze from the canvas. Painted in smoky grey with dark black outlines, the faces stand out from splashes of cobalt and teal and bursts of fiery orange, red and yellow. One large, blue eye occupies a large segment of canvas left of center and lances viewers with its stare.
Bruce isn’t a professional artist. He’s a Kelso High School senior, and this piece, along with another painting of Pike Place Market in Seattle, earned him three awards and a scholarship at the Educational Service District 112 Regional Art Show in Vancouver last week.
Six Kelso students brought home 14 awards from the show. Five Longview students earned awards as well. Four pieces from Longview and Kelso will be moving on to the state art show in Olympia, where they’ll be judged against artwork from all over Washington.
Lilian Niles and Kirstin Mury of Kelso were both awarded $40,000 scholarships to the Oregon College of Art and Craft: Niles, for her piece titled “Red Riding Hood’s Revenge” and Mury for her piece, “Mayfair.” Mury’s piece also won the ESD 112 staff choice award out of 278 entries. Bruce and Niles also won $3,000 scholarships to Central Washington University.
Bruce and Mury said they won’t be taking advantage of these scholarships: They can only be applied to the awarding school, and both have alternate post-graduate plans. Mury recently agreed to a track and field scholarship with Azusa Pacific University in California. Bruce said he’ll likely go to the University of Washington, where he hopes to study bio-engineering.
“I know that sounds odd for an artist, but I’m also kind of a technical person. I’m good at math and science,” Bruce said. “I’ll probably do art on the side though.”
Niles could not be reached for comment.
Cheyenne Sarmiento, a senior at Mark Morris, will be advancing to the state art show along with Bruce and Niles with her ceramic piece, “Aware.”
“Aware,” is a ceramic portrait of a face. Daubs of brown and black adorn the face, which wears a forlorn expression. Several twigs and pine needles protrude from the subject’s forehead and cheeks.
For the three Kelso High School students, all in the “honors” art program, teacher TJ Frey had given them a mixed media assignment. At the honors level students “get assignments that are more of an idea or concept,” Frey said.
Frey said that Bruce is skilled with several media and has an understanding of how to paint and draw portraits. For Bruce’s piece, “I Think I’m Thinking,” he pasted pieces of paper with astronomical images on the canvas and then painted with acrylics over the top.
Bruce has previously been recognized for his art. His sophomore year charcoal drawing, a self-portrait titled “Childhood Friends,” won first place in Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District Art Competition. His art remained on display in the U.S. Capitol Building for a year and represented the district.
Bruce said this year’s “I Think I’m Thinking” was unplanned, which was unusual for him.
“That one I had no kind of idea where it was going,” Bruce said. “Each day I just kind of started doing something weird with it. And so each day I sat down with new paint and added a layer of weird stuff.”
Mury’s piece was a little more laid out: “Mayfair,” which earned her the show’s Staff Choice award and a scholarship, was an acrylic painting recreated from a picture her mother took in London.
Longview student Cheyenne Sarmiento said that she had a theme going into the creation of her piece all along.
“We did a project in my advanced art class, it was actually a self-portrait project,” Sarmiento said. Her teacher, Debra Robasky, let her stretch the prompt a little bit.
The face depicted isn’t Sarmiento’s, but a face that represents humanity. Various pieces of wood and pine needles represent fires and logging, and the brown and black slicks across the face represent oil spills.
“It’s a face because it’s people that are causing all of these problems (to the environment)” Sarmiento said.
Teachers are the one who are tasked with selecting the pieces that go to the regional show. Pieces must be original (they cannot, for example, be replicas of an image online or another piece of art) and each school can only submit a limited number of pieces based on enrollment.
“When a student is working on an outstanding piece, I can identify if that would be an optional piece to send to regionals,” Frey said. “But sometimes you do have to choose between several strong pieces.”