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Layna Kinnaird believes her painting about imperfection is full of imperfections.
That’s why the Salina Central High School junior was surprised that her painting “What’s Wrong with Your Skin?” was chosen as one of the representative pieces in the 2021 Sunflower Biennial exhibition opening this week at the Salina Art Center.
“I’m really excited, but I wasn’t expecting this one to get in,” she said. “It’s not one of my favorites because I wanted to spend a little more time with it.”
In other words, Kinnaird is being a perfectionist about a painting that celebrates imperfection. Her painting, which she created with gouache paint and Swarovski crystals, is a portrait of an African American man with vitiligo, a skin disease that creates white blotches on the skin.
“I wanted to show really beautiful people with skin diseases and imperfections to show it as something normal instead of being thought of as weird,” she said. “I want to continue to paint a series of people with insecurities and imperfections to show how beautiful it can be.”
Despite the work not being up to Kinnaird’s personal standards, she still is grateful to be included along with four other Salina Central students in the second edition of the Sunflower Biennial exhibition.
In addition to Kinnaird, Salina Central student artists chosen include Lexus DiLoreto, Rebekah Franklin, Hana Rose North and Emily Redding.
The first edition in 2019 featured regional artists of all ages. The 2021 edition highlights the works of young Kansas artists in two divisions, ages 15 to 18 and 19 to 24, in a variety of artistic mediums that include paintings, drawings, ceramics, photography and three-dimensional works.
The exhibition opened Wednesday and runs through April 11 at the Salina Art Center, 242 S. Santa Fe. Admission is free.
Galleries are open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Extended gallery hours for First Friday will be from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. today. Masks are required for admission, and only 15 people will be allowed in the galleries at a time in compliance with a mandate issued by the Saline County Commission through at least Feb. 21.
Visitors also are welcome to make appointments for private showings by calling 827-1431.
Sea dragon from tiles
In her work “Seabiscuit,” Redding, a senior, created a sea dragon split into five tiles made from glazed red clay and red iron oxide, which is attached to a piece of driftwood she said she found at Lakewood Park.
Redding said she was very excited to have her work chosen for the exhibition, which features more than 100 artworks by more than 60 artists.
“I was shocked I got in,” she said. “I feel pretty validated now.”
Salina Central senior Hana Rose North created an acrylic with graphite painting entitled “Integrated,” which depicts a cityscape of buildings that focus on sustainability using solar panels and natural gardens.
North, who plans to major in architecture in college, said she wanted to create a cityscape in which “maintaining sustainability in the buildings is important.”
“It’s actually one of my messier works,” she said. “I did a drawing blueprint and calculated all the angles, and then it started becoming more impressionistic. I didn’t expect it to be selected, but it’s a very happy surprise.”
Salina Art Center executive director Misty Serene said more than 120 young Kansas artists submitted more than 400 works for the juried show. The 60 artists selected for the show represent 28 communities and 26 schools and universities across Kansas, she said.
“About 90% of the works are from Kansas students, and there’s excellent representation from Salina,” she said.
In addition to Salina Central, student works were selected from Newton High School, Topeka High School, Pike Valley High School, Kansas Wesleyan University, Sterling College, Fort Hays State University, Barton Community College, Garden City Community College, Emporia State University, Bethany College, McPherson College and Wichita State University, among others.
The exhibition juror was Nelson Smith, a retired Bethany College professor and award-winning artist who has a studio in Lindsborg. Nelson said he was impressed with the quality of the work produced by the young artists, which made narrowing down the entries a formidable task.
Nelson said the young artists in this region “are pretty well plugged into what’s going on today.”
“Artists experiment with materials and juxtapositions that challenge us while connecting to our common humanity,” he said. “(These) young artists demonstrate these qualities in abundance. It is exciting to see a new generation of artists finding new ways to surprise us.”
On Feb. 17, there will be a special “Lunch and Learn” presentation featuring exhibition juror Nelson Smith and a panel of young artists featured in the exhibition beginning at noon. Viewing is available through Facebook Live or through registration via Zoom. More information is available at www.salinaartcenter.org.
DiLoreto, a Salina Central junior, created a watercolor painting entitled “Rainy Day,” which is her view of a neighborhood corner of Santa Fe Avenue in downtown Salina. In the foreground is a large fire hydrant, which DiLoreto chose to paint a vibrant pink.
“I creatively painted the hydrant pink, which is what I thought was best,” she said. “I like splattering and mixing different colors.”
DiLoreto said she was shocked that “Rainy Day” was selected for the Biennial exhibition, even though the painting had previously won an award at an art show at Bethany College.
“I didn’t feel strongly that this picture was my best,” she said. “But it feels good that my artwork is recognized in town and at school.”
Serene said she and her staff reached out to high school art teachers and college art professors statewide and were pleased with the strong response.
“These educators should be extremely proud of the work coming out of their schools,” she said. “They’re mentoring those artists very well.”
This Sunflower Biennial was inspired by the Gerry Neustrom Youth Challenge, an art competition focused primarily on high school artists started by the Rev. Willys Neustrom in his wife’s name and co-sponsored by the Salina Art Center, Serene said. The competition ran from 1993 to 2010.
“It was a show the art center was really proud of, and that the viewers loved,” Serene said. “After 2010, our donors and patrons often mentioned it, so we decided to bring the idea back for this Biennial and expand it to early college students as well.”
Serene said she’s struck by how the young contributing artists to this year’s Sunflower Biennial exhibition have focused on themes of identity, culture and diversity, social justice issues and the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There was no trouble identifying these works were made in 2020,” she said.
'Creepy and unsettling'
With her three-dimensional work, “Thanatophobia,” Salina Central senior Rebekah Franklin created the figure of a blackened deer with a red gaping hole where its face should be, using paper mache and foam.
“It’s the embodiment of a deer that got shot in the face, and the spirit is following you around,” she said. “It’s a feeling you get when you’re in the woods by yourself and you feel something is watching you. I like the creepy, unsettling aspects of fear. Why not create it so you can see and feel it in front of you, so you can visualize your fears?”
Franklin is pleased that others seem to like her work, as dark as it sometimes can be, although she stressed she doesn’t make art to please others.
“I do this for myself, and if other people like it, that’s great,” she said.
Franklin credits the art teachers at Salina Central with helping her and her fellow students achieve their dreams and goals through the creative arts.
“Art teachers put a lot of heart in their programs,” she said. “That’s what makes them special.”
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