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An Art Gallery in an English Classroom

Adam Aleksic, Editor-in-Chief

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Room 307, Mr. Peter Keegan’s English classroom, would look like every other if it was not for the artwork of Sion Hardy.

On a column jutting out between two windows, two abstract portraits of girls are stacked vertically, a myriad of bright colors connected in a jigsaw to produce a striking effect on the skin of the subjects. On top of a cabinet, a young African-American woman stares at you, beside an iconic picture of the construction of the Empire State Building, contrasting modernity with history and drawing together the different nations existing in America. Above the desk, a similarly mosaic elephant looms menacingly, and on the desk, two more surrealist girls can be found, one with skin made of orbs and the other surrounded by them. And, by far the “fan favorite”, a purple Tyrannosaurus superimposed onto a psychedelic pattern of triangles is located beneath the U.S. flag, a curious contrast between patriotism and absurdism.

Sion, a senior here at AHS, is a former student of Mr. Keegan, who teaches English 12, Creative Writing, and Horror Fiction and Film. They have a special partnership arranged for the displaying of Sion’s art. “At the beginning of the year, we had some empty wall space,” Mr. Keegan told me last Friday. “So, I made a general announcement to everybody: if anybody had some artwork, bring it in, and I would hang it up.” Sion was the only one to jump at Mr. Keegan’s offer, and the results have been tremendous.

“A lot of kids comment on the paintings,” Mr. Keegan said. “Even the ninth grade classes that are in here too. They love them! They want to know: Who is that artist? Where did you get those?” Clearly, the mini gallery has been a triumph.

Mr. Keegan was particularly excited about how the paintings reflected a kind of “living gallery”, a concept he kept repeating when I interviewed him. “You’ve seen normal art gallery displays: they’re usually just blank walls with paintings, paintings, paintings…” Mr. Keegan griped. “So what we sort of talked about, and I figured it would be a cool idea, was to have it more like a ‘living display’. Instead of just a sterile set of paintings in a gallery, it would be more like letting the room itself be the gallery, and have an interactive-type experience… you don’t typically see paintings displayed in a normal gallery as a frame on a person’s desk, or a shelf.” This degree of entropy to the placement only supplements the style of Sion’s work, and the tangibility of the thought-provoking paintings reaches the students on a personal level over a large period of time. “This isn’t just, ‘oh, I saw those paintings’”, Mr. Keegan explained. “It’s more everyday. The gallery is a space that people inhabit every day.”

“I like to include as much color as I can,” Sion said, of her art. “I like doing portraits of people, and art is the way I express myself. I did do some things in reference to Black Lives Matter, but I also focus on surrealism and make-believe things, which challenge my creativity.” Color and her characteristic cartoon style are critical as well. Clearly Sion balances relevancy with creativity with pure love for her work.

And work she does, often late into morning. Sion has already hosted several, more expansive (and commercial) galleries outside of school, renting out an entire floor down on North Swan Street in early August. Though it lacked the “living gallery” aspect, it more than made up for that in the sheer amount of well-crafted surrealist paintings, from a transcendent octopus to more portraits to more dinosaurs. In February, Sion got accepted into a 3D gallery at Mohonansen High School, and at the blackfest in mid-August, she also got a chance to showcase her creations. Sion also has one painting in both the rooms of Mr. Jeff Dring and Ms. Kristina Shakow.

As for the future, both curator and creator have big plans. “These are just on loan,” Mr. Keegan told me, indicating the scattered paintings. “At the end of the year, she’ll be able to take that back, and hopefully I’ll be able to get someone next year to do the same… I’m hoping to make it an ongoing thing. She’s been a great example, and I know a couple of other kids have thought about it too”.

Meanwhile, Sion is planning an art exhibit at the Albany Barn Stage 1 Gallery with fellow classmate Emmanuel Williams, from December 8th through 10th. “We’re having an art exhibit called Alexithymia, a word describing a condition where a person is unable to express themselves… but our exhibit will be based on emotion and self-expression,” she said. In the long run, Sion plans to attend college for animation and digital arts, and “hopefully go into film or video game design”.

Either way, what we have here is a perfect example of what makes Albany High awesome: a symbiotic relationship between teacher and student that brings joy to all, and maybe a dinosaur or two.

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An Art Gallery in an English Classroom