This month, our featured artist is eighth grader Julia Zhang. Julia was recently named a Silver Key Award Winner (second place) in the painting category of the 2018 Connecticut Regional Scholastic Art Awards. Students in grades 7-12 competed in this statewide contest, which is juried by professional artists and University of Hartford art faculty. The winners’ work is being exhibited in the Silpe Gallery at the Hartford Art School (University of Hartford) until February 5.

Julia received the award at Lincoln Center at the University of Hartford on Sunday, January 28. We had a chance to catch up with her to learn more about her artistic inspiration and accomplishments.

When did you become interested in the arts?
Since I was in kindergarten, I have dreamt of being a graphic designer. I was inspired by my idol, Philippe Starck. He was a talented designer, architect, and inventor, and the furniture he designed still surprises me every time I see it. When I started to take studio art classes, I discovered that most people love drawing when they are kids, but over time, more and more burdens in school work and pressure from parents are added on, so more and more people give up as they grow up; the people who [remain connected to the arts] are really the ones who are strong-minded and have dreams deeply in their hearts.
What inspires you to create?
Everything. I think most of the time, creativity is based on our daily lives: things that happen, items we use. If a person sits in his room everyday, he would NEVER create anything. So I go to the museums sometimes, enjoy the paintings by famous artists, even draw them in my sketchbooks. I capture interesting things happening everyday, and draw them like they really look or feel, especially the diary drawings that I do. I keep them in my mind, and when I draw big paintings, they all become materials and my sources of inspirations.

What is your proudest artistic accomplishment?
Although I won gold medals in lots of Chinese National art competitions, my proudest artistic accomplishment that happened in my life was still a personal exhibition I had in the primary school I graduated from. My parents made me a nice portfolio, which recorded all my drawing memories in my school life. To prepare for this exhibition, it required a huge amount of time and effort, and it ended up fabulous. I had to spend weeks on four huge square size paintings. And in this show, I also put my diary drawings in it. Nearly every day in my primary school life, I drew things just like most people write a diary, I used my sketching pen to tell the interesting stories happening everyday at school; things I saw on my desk or my mom’s wide-opened mouth when she fell asleep on the couch. I never missed a single detail in my life; I drew everything. Since kindergarten to sixth grade, 19 sketchbooks accumulated, the childish lines became more and more sophisticated, little by little, my diary witnessed my growth. I am so proud of myself that I insisted on doing it for nearly seven years non-stop, maybe that’s why I am so addicted to art now.

How did it feel to be a silver key award winner in the CT Regional Scholastic Art Awards?
Actually, the news that I won a silver key gave me a shock. I couldn’t believe I really won it when Mr. Visockis told me so, but I was also very excited. The other works in the art show were awesome; some had delicate tactics, others were very imaginative. I am so happy to see that thousands of young people are eager to dedicate their whole lives to the art career, I am also one of them. Their artwork gave me lots of inspiration and enthusiasm to keep working and drawing. And thanks to Mr. V., who teaches me and took me on the long drive to Hartford. I hope I can use my art talents to do something useful for IMS. And I also hope next year that more IMS kids can join this fantastic and historical scholastic awards.

Can you tell us more about your piece that was selected?
Did you ever have a moment when you felt imprisoned, but tried to gain freedom? I guess people at my age, who are energetic teens, sometimes feel like they are being controlled by the rules or their thoughts, and cannot be set free. But we are always trying to break through, although there might be a lot of obstacles on our long way to go. I kind of drew this feeling. The lion in my painting, it is pushing itself forward, trying to set itself free from that invisible power that keeps holding it back. Its body is invisible, it was such a torture for this lion to break the strong power, but the background is a nice bright and joyful color; although things are hard, it still wants to face them positively. “My Homework,” the title of the painting, is also an important example of this power. One of the reasons that I chose this painting is that I think the lion is a actually a symbol of myself: energetic, trying to break though the thinking formulas that control me.