February 10, 2021

AHA Artists Earn Recognition in Prestigious Competition

Several fine artists who attend the Academy of the Holy Angels have received recognition in the regional Scholastic Art & Writing Competition. Two Angels earned Gold Keys, which unlock their opportunity to compete in the national event. Another Angel received a Silver Key, and multiple students took home Honorable Mentions.


Gold Key winners Gian Lee of Englewood Cliffs (’22) and Stella Ouyang of Nanuet, New York, (’23) garnered a total of four Gold Keys and two Silver Keys. Ouyang received top honors for her video, “Connecting Through Boundaries,” and her piece “Look to the Light.” Her Silver Key was for “Time to Heal.” Lee received Gold Keys for her painting “Left Behind” and her sculpture “Red, ‘Yellow,’ and Blue.” Her photo, “Figure and Ground” earned her a Silver Key. Lee also received three Honorable Mentions: one for her poetry and two for her personal essays.


Holy Angels students who were honored for work completed at the Academy include Julia Fernandez, a senior from Teaneck, who received a Silver Key for her charcoal drawing “In the Garage,” and Honorable Mentions for “Reach to Dream” and “Purple Christmas Bliss. The following artists also earned Honorable Mentions for the works named here: Catherine Callahan of Tenafly (’21), “Tools” and “Found in Nature;” Shelby Clark of Bergenfield (’21), “Crisis;” Sydni Murado of Union City (’21), “Ribs;” Antonia Mysliwiec of Cliffside Park (’21), “Tools;” Kacey Pupo of Tappan, New York (’22), “But There’s Nothing in the Fridge;” and Emma Yale of Westwood (’22), “Urban Flora.” These pieces were created by Christine DeGennaro’s art students, except for “Purple Christmas Bliss,” which Fernandez made after school with guidance from Kathryn Biskup.


“My work ‘Left Behind’ was a painting inspired by my grandfather, who has Alzheimer’s. I wanted to highlight that, even though he is still present physically, his mental state, along with his strong personality, intelligence, and the history he created for himself through hard work, are gone,” Gold Key artist Gian Lee shared.


She added that she created her sculpture “Red, “Yellow” and Blue” to highlight the issue of cultural identity that she and many other Asian-Americans face.


“I was also inspired by a common Asian comfort food, which is ramen. I thought it was important to note that it was a comfort food because comfort foods all look so different depending on the culture, and change based on a person’s preference and what makes (that person) ‘comfortable.’”


She took her winning photo, “Figure and Ground,” while she was visiting a local nature center.


Lee has taken AHA’s art, photography, and painting classes as a freshman and sophomore. She currently takes the Academy’s Studio Art course, and aspires to take Advanced Placement Studio Art as a senior. She also takes private classes.


Stella Ouyang said her artistic inspiration comes from societal problems and her attitude toward those issues. “Connecting Through Boundaries” concerns the struggle against racism.


“People are trying to connect with all races; however, because of racism and unequal treatment, we are having trouble achieving our wants,” Ouyang said.


“Time to Heal” was prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.


“The soldiers represent the first line workers for the virus, and the girl represents hope. I want to show that even though the virus is having a significant negative effect on our society right now, everything will eventually be okay,” the artist said. “Lastly, for ‘Look to the Light,’ I got my inspiration from the Bible and the positive vibe we should have every day. In the piece, all the objects are faced toward the light and the light represents God and hope. The skull and black panther create the contrast between positive and negative, which also means no matter how depressed you are for the day, we should always have hope, and God is always with us.”


Ouyang said she developed her style through practice and observing the world around her.


“I notice the details of the little things, and I try to capture the deep meaning of the events, then express my idea through my art,” she said. “The media I used for my art are oil painting, acrylic painting, scratch color paper, pastel pencils, color pencils, and videos and films.”

Ouyang’s artistic endeavors include private lessons.


Fernandez commented that “In the Garage” was a summer assignment for Christine DeGennaro’s Advanced Placement Studio Art class.


“Mrs. DeGennaro gave us source photos that we would use black and white charcoal to draw,” Fernandez said. “I had not ever used charcoal before this project, but I had a lot of fun getting my hands dirty (since it’s a messy medium) and getting very rich shadows and super shiny looking highlights. Experimenting with the texture of each tool was also really interesting, because some sections were matte, shiny, old-looking, etc.”


“Reach to Dream” is a photo Fernandez took in her yard.


“Over the summer, a groundhog continually came into our backyard to eat our garden. Instead of shooing it away, I started feeding it carrots, and named it Jerry. Every day at around 5 p.m., Jerry would come into our backyard looking for the carrots that I left him,” she said.


Fernandez captured the moment when Jerry stood up to reach a carrot. She called the piece “Reach to Dream,” because she imagined that Jerry dreams about carrots.

Fernandez painted “Purple Christmas Bliss” on her own time with Ms. Biskup’s assistance.

“Ms. Biskup spent hours teaching me to paint after school in sophomore year, because it is something that I really enjoy, but I did not have time to fit a painting class into my schedule. She is one of the main reasons that I was able to grow my artistic abilities at AHA, and truly allowed me to see potential that I did not know that I had. I owe her so much for spending time with me to help me pursue a passion, and I am extremely happy that the piece that she helped me with was recognized.”


When Fernandez began the project in November of 2018, she decided on a Christmas theme. Biskup suggested a collection of ornaments.


“I chose ornaments with many different textures to learn as much as possible in the span of one painting, and each sparkle on the ornaments is a tiny dot painted by hand. Every ornament that I chose had some sparkles on it, so you can probably tell why it took me such a long time (over a year). Not only did I learn the basics of painting, but also patience with myself and my work.


“For as long as I can remember, art has been a huge part of my life. It has been a way to express myself, and share any type of message that I wanted people to know. Though I am not looking to become an art major, it is something that I will always be heavily involved in, and will take with me through every step of my life. In college, I will be minoring in studio art, and pursuing marketing as my major,” Fernandez said.

The Scholastic Art & Writing Competition is the country’s oldest and most prestigious competition for teens. Publisher Maurice R. Robinson established the event in 1923 to encourage young people’s expression and independent thought. Notable honorees from prior years include Andy Warhol, Kay WalkingStick, Zac Posen, and Ezra Jack Keats.
The AHA Art Department includes Chairperson Jennifer Lee and teachers Kathryn Biskup and Christine DeGennaro.

Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in Bergen County. While AHA is steeped in Catholic tradition, this prestigious high school serves young women from various cultural and religious backgrounds.