La Jolla High School art show to tackle student identity in wake of pandemic

A self-portrait by Elizabeth Parr, 17, was inspired by her self-reflection during the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Courtesy of Elizabeth Parr)

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, students were put through an emotional, social and educational washing machine of changes and adaptation. But some La Jolla High School students took that time to reflect — and they channeled their feelings into art projects.

An exhibition of those works will be held from 3 to 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 19, at the upper arts complex on the La Jolla High campus, 750 Nautilus St. It’s part of what has become known as the Green Dragon Art Show. Donations will be accepted (cash or check only) to help bolster the La Jolla High art program.

The showcase, presented by the Advanced Placement studio art class, features work in fine arts, woodshop, drama, graphic design and ceramics on the theme of “discovering identity after dealing with COVID-19.”

“We picked that theme because it encapsulates a wide range of works — you can have real artistic freedom and interpret however you want and can have a lot of mediums in that,” said participant Elizabeth Parr, 17.

The AP art class has an end-of-the-school-year assignment to participate in an art show, so the six students in the class will be showing to meet that assignment.

“During [the pandemic], it was just us and our identity. … For us locals, we got to be alone with nature.”

— Hayden Gawel

Each participant took advantage of the creative freedom the theme allowed. The La Jolla Light interviewed four of them.

“A lot of my work centers on religion because I grew up in a very religious household,” said Will Spann, 18. “I went to a pretty strict Lutheran school for elementary and middle school. Moving here five years ago, there was a huge culture shock for me, and it made me think about how religion plays a role in my life and I wanted to paint that. So a lot of my art centers on my interest in nature and science and how that is juxtaposed with the role religion plays in my life.”

He said the lockdowns during the pandemic provided “a perfect situation to foster self-reflection and my stance on religion. Whether that be my strength in belief or lack of belief in some sense, was definitely due to COVID.”

Hayden Gawel, Tatum Evans, Elizabeth Parr and Will Spann
Hayden Gawel, Tatum Evans, Elizabeth Parr and Will Spann are some of the La Jolla High School AP art students who will participate in the Green Dragon Art Show.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Elizabeth said her work often includes watercolor portraits inspired by her family. During the height of the pandemic, both of her older siblings moved out.

“In my pieces, I reflected on family memories and old photos and turned them into watercolor portraits,” she said. Among the pieces in the show, Elizabeth submitted self-portraits and a watercolor interpretation of a photo of her brother as a child.

Similarly, Tatum Evans, 18, uses her family — and La Jolla — as inspiration.

“My family is connected to Harry’s Coffee Shop, which I see as a landmark, so I painted that and a lot of other landmarks, like the Windansea shack,” she said. “I think my identity is linked to my family and La Jolla, so that’s what my art revolves around.”

She said some of her mixed-media pieces include different kinds of paper and sometimes cut-up strips of the Light.

Hayden Gawel, 17, said she created works inspired by pandemic-driven changes to her normally tourist-heavy community.

“I walked around the landmarks of La Jolla and saw that they were desolate,” she said. “I did a watercolor from the viewpoint of a local trail looking down at the beach and it is completely empty. During that time, it was just us and our identity. … For us locals, we got to be alone with nature.”

So how did the students’ identity change during the pandemic?

“I realized for college, I didn’t want to stay in San Diego,” Tatum said. “Through art, I discovered my roots, but then I also realized that even though it is beautiful here, I don’t want to stay.” She will attend Cal Poly San Luis Obispo this fall.

Elizabeth said she learned to “treat others and me with grace” because “we had so much time to self-reflect. That can be positive but can also make you too self-critical. After awhile, I wanted to be kinder to myself and others.”

Hayden said that going forward, “I think I would enjoy things so much more if I don’t take myself so seriously.”

Will said he learned that “I find a lot of happiness giving to others, specifically my family. So any art I make I give to my family. They say giving is better than receiving, but I think I learned to cherish making the people around me happy.” ◆