Zhang and Lee recognized as Nation YoungArts winners


Courtesy of Eunice Lee

Lee’s piece titled “Brevity”

Emilia Tutun, Editor

 YoungArts, a group sponsored by the National Foundation for the Advancement of Artists, annually holds a competition to identify the most accomplished young artists in the visual, literary, and performing arts.  This year the group has recognized junior Natalie Zhang and senior Eunice Lee as two of the artists among the 720 other winners nationwide.

   While YoungArts provides those who enroll in their competition with the platform to develop their artistic and creative skills throughout their careers by offering them access to specific resources and professional development opportunities, this competition is just one of Zhang and Lee’s steps towards becoming meaningful artists. 

   In these students’ time at Weston High School, art teacher Julie Hom-Mandell has taught both Zhang and Lee. Although she did not help them with their enrollment and portfolio submission to the YoungArts competition, Hom-Mandell has observed Zhang and Lee develop and express themselves as artists and people. 

   “First and foremost, they are so self-motivated. Natalie has so many interests in terms of visual arts and is also a classically trained pianist and poetry writer; her writing and work has a real vision of design. Her way of looking at the world is by absorbing everything she sees; it is like a breath she takes,” Hom-Mandell said. “Like Natalie, Eunice absorbs everything around her too; [she is] coachable, has a strong vision, and is able to communicate her themes and interests well. She is articulate and expresses her desire to explore how ideologies like nature versus nurture influence the human condition, social hierarchies, etc.” 

   Even though she has not formally studied the two art forms for which she enrolled in the competition,  Classical Music (Piano) and Design, Zhang was named a Finalist in both categories. 

   “I am a completely self-taught digital artist and graphic designer, [and] I began drawing when I was a toddler, but [only] started to seriously pursue art – specifically digital art – in middle school,”

    In pursuit of growing as an artist, Zhang has developed various processes and methods from which she draws inspiration. 

   “I am constantly inspired by artists on social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest. Although I do believe in the importance of creating entirely original artwork, finding references and diverse styles from other artists is an important part of my artistic development process,” Zhang said. “Also, not only do I seek inspiration from other visual artists, but also from music that I listen to, personal memories, and books that I read. Even common day-to-day occurrences can be embodied in my artwork.”

   Like Zhang, Lee also started drawing in her childhood and similarly found motivation from various experiences and people that have inspired her passion for art. Lee’s growth contributed to her being named a Merit award winner in the Visual Arts category. 

   “I’ve been drawing constantly since I was a kid, and I just continued working at it as I got older,” Lee said. “Making art with my friends, taking classes at school, and going to a studio were definitely motivating factors. I’m inspired by a lot of artists, including environmental artists Agnes Denes and Olafur Eliasson. I look up to them due to their direct involvement with nature, the unique projects they undertake (like Eliasson’s elemental effects and Denes’ landfill-to-forest projects), and the spotlight they shed on pro-environmental action with their work.”

     While they draw inspiration from different media, individuals, and experiences, Zhang and Lee launch their creative processes in similar ways by first establishing a few concepts to work with. 

   “The overarching themes I work with include the environment, the human psyche, and my own identity. These are important to me because I want to bring urgency and awareness to the climate crisis, I’m interested in the use of psychology in art (while trying to connect with other people), and art is a great mode for self-expression. I try to incorporate these themes into my pieces by utilizing anything at my disposal to add to my message, including colors or materials,” Lee said. 

      Using these themes, Lee submitted four paintings, a collage of images of a melting candle, an installation, wearable paper art, and stop-motion animation. Out of the diverse creations in her portfolio, Lee has her favorites.

   “I am most proud of ‘Reality TV’ and ‘Brevity.’ With the stop-motion animation in ‘Reality TV,’ I tried to imbue every detail and movement with meaning in order to convey the message that climate change is something we can’t afford to ignore,” Lee said. “As for ‘Brevity,’ I poured a wax candle using a mold I made with my clay sculpture. Then, I took a timelapse of the candle melting to signify family across generations, the passage of time, and the brevity of life.”

   Zhang also centered her portfolio on three of her passions: Asain culture, music, and poetry. Based on these themes, Zhang created a stamp set, iPhone app icons & a wallpaper pack, merchandise from a fictional ramen restaurant, a series of chocolate wrappers with different instruments on them – a potential gift for music teachers, and a book cover for a poetry anthology. 

    “The majority of my portfolio had the overarching theme of the ‘East Asian aesthetic.’ Recently, I have been working with the East Asian aesthetic in both my digital paintings and my graphic designs. Inspired by my own Chinese heritage and symbols that are significant to my family, I use my art as a way to both spread appreciation of Asian culture as well as connect deeply with my Asian background,” Zhang said. 

    Both Zhang and Lee’s artistic abilities, voice, and natural leadership have not only set an example for others around them, but also for Hom-Mandell herself.  

    “As an educator, they raise the bar for me too. They always jump at opportunities to help with big community projects, [and] are creatively fearless,” Hom-Mandell said. “They pour their natural self, which demonstrates their vulnerability, into their work; this takes secure identity, confidence, and poise. They have always had a sense of maturity, but have also gained a certain sense of calmness and humility, [and] are natural leaders that lead by example. I see this quite clearly as they are always so helpful with others in the class and with myself.”

    Zhang and Lee’s ambition is not limited to the YoungArts competition, as they both aim to continue pursuing art after high school. 

  “Moving forward, I hope to study art’s many applications and use this universal medium to communicate more effectively with the audience. I aspire to become an artist who gives people engaging, thought-provoking, and unforgettable experiences,” Lee said. 

    Similar to Lee, Zhang also has envisioned a future centered around her artistic passions. 

    “Although my plans are not concrete, I plan to take design-related courses in college. As an avid musician, creative writer, and visual artist, one of my lifelong pursuits is to somehow combine these three forms of art into one magnificent and unique fusion,” Zhang said. “This isn’t something that has been achieved before by many, so I hope to make my artistic contribution to society in this way.”

    For now, Zhang and Lee are focused on tackling different collaborative projects at WHS.

    “Natalie is leading, along with the rest of the NHS, the Chinese painting mural. [Additionally], Eunice is having open conversations with Chloe Jeniski, along with others in the senior class, about the potential to develop an environmentally climate-conscious installation for the school,” Hom-Mandell said. “Together, they are serving to make a positive change and allowing others to be uplifted with them.”