“The Portrait Experience” is on exhibit in the Merkle and Price Galleries July 2-15 with an artists reception on Friday, July 6, 5:30-7pm. it is a collaborative effort between 81 ninth-twelfth students, Artists in Education artists Lisa Burton Tarver and Maria Villegas, and El Dorado High School art instructor Sara Beth Howard.

Howard said, “This exhibit is unique. To create this many varied, expressive and successful self portraits is a feat of the imagination. It is inconceivable that so many novice art students would dig so deeply within themselves and accomplish what eludes many professional artist. To teach art is to teach others to see. As human beings we are endowed with an ego and preconceived notions of ‘self’. ‘Who am I?’ is spiritual and existential question. It is a question that an astounding number of artists have attempted to answer.

“During a three month period El Dorado High school students had a chance to examine and respond visual to the question ‘Who am I?;. Adolescents are exploring questions of identity at a rate that is exponential. During the Artist in Residency experience they opened their hearts, minds and intellect to innumerable challenges and probing questions: how do I feel about myself, how do others see me, am I attractive, do others like me, can I create a self portrait, can I create this work…will I succeed.”

She continued, “From the moment that photographer Lisa Tarver stepped into my art room, students were receptive. Lisa has an amazing presence-calm, welcoming, affirming and kind. Students let down their guard and their emotional walls, and Lisa captured stunning portraits of my beautiful and diverse students. When she returned with enlarged black and white prints the excitement was palpable. In seeing themselves in this new way, students seemed visibly changed, renewed and uplifted.

“During the next month, students explored the general proportions of the face and structure of the skull. Many, many exercises were required. and because they were inspired by their photos, they pushed and tried and failed and revised and tried yet again. I felt their resolve deepening and even in all the failures-art is 99 percent failure-they pushed on.

“As we studied many examples of the ways artists have portrayed themselves, we explored proportion, color, background and style,” she said. “Students spend hours attempting to match their own skin tone and create it using only primary colors.

“When it was time for Maria Villegas to join us for weekly drawing and painting the students were eager to see her demonstrations, to have her draw them, to draw themselves and to move toward the canvas.”

Howard explained, “Working collectively is something artists do routinely. However, an art classroom is a bit like a kitchen…if you get too many cooks working at the same time it can get dicey. Working together, working through difficulties for the benefit of the students was key. Watching these young people be so engaged-soaking up all the personalities and abilities of their instructional team was incredible. It is truely what AIE was created for.’

She concluded, “As you meander though the exhibit, please take time to feel the process-this show has inspired works. But beneath it is the invisible process. The process,the experience, is what I shared with my students and these new colleagues, and I am forever changed by it. Grateful. And changed!”