Shelton High art classes highlight African American artists

SHELTON — High school students delved into the world of African American artistic excellence this past month, and results were truly enlightening, according to Shelton High art teacher Theresa Manus-Piccolo.

Manus-Piccolo, also the district’s K-12 visual art curriculum leader, said all students spent the entire school year studying many artists from various backgrounds and cultures. Black History Month allowed for a focus on African American artists.

“I felt that focusing on these specific artists and assignments in my courses during Black History Month would further highlight black excellence in art and inspire my students to use their artistic voices to better communicate their own ideas and identity,” Manus-Piccolo said.

Among the artists studied were Amy Sherald, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kara Walker.

Students in the Art Foundations course studied Sherald, most famous for her portrait of Michelle Obama.

Manus-Piccolo said Sherald creates painted figures in grayscale to remove race from the subjects, and then adds bright and vibrant colored props and patterned clothing to tell the story of “everyday people, doing everyday things.”

After learning about her, she said students created patterns that symbolized themselves.

For the Digital Drawing and Painting class, students studied Basquiat, who began as a graffiti artist and then grew to be an influential neo-expressionist.

“His work is a comment on social issues, sports, television, music, and other popular subjects,” Manus-Piccolo said. “His work often includes a crown to represent him or respect for his subject. After studying Basquiat, students were asked to create a simple digital personal symbol they could use in their artwork.”

In Illustration class, students learned about Walker. Walker creates installation artwork that tells a story, she said, and often her stories make a broader social commentary, particularly regarding race, violence, history and sexuality.

She said students were asked to tell a story meaningful to them using silhouette techniques after learning about Walker and her work.