Artistic Obsession: A Look into ASF's Artist of the Year

Above: Thalasa Kariya (second from left to right) receiving the award as Student Artist of the Year

For Thalasa Kariya (‘18),  grade 10 was an awakening. Struggling to find her voice and connection as many do at 16, she turned to the Korean phenomenon K-pop. Korean pop (K-Pop) is a part of Korean wave originating in South Korea. K-pop has a quite recognizable sound and it contains a wide spectrum of musical and visual elements, which makes it hard not to notice and easy to obsess over. “I was never the kind of person who got attached to celebrities, so when I got into K pop . . . I thought it’d be interesting to record my emotions and visually show how I felt while I was a fan.” As a budding artist, she was drawn to the fashion, the staging, the dancing, and the lyrics, “the commercialism was really what drew me into K-pop. I found the artists’ artificial identities aesthetically pleasing and started drawing fanarts (artistic drawings of the band) to depict their fashion and character, which developed through each new music video they released.”

During grade 10, Kariya chose art as the elective pursuit where she would connect her obsession with her passion. Entering grade 10, she enrolled in Art I and Ceramics. During those early years, Art teacher Pat Patterson reflected on working with Kariya, “She definitely had skill, passion and determination to dive deeper into the K-pop scene. I challenged her to expand her vision.” During grade 11, Kariya dove deep into the ASF art offerings and enrolled in IB Visual Art and AP Studio Art. Both courses are a two-year study, which allowed her to pursue her personal interest while developing a comprehensive portfolio and exhibition demonstrating her mastery of artistic skills. In both courses, a culminating experience is required. In AP Studio Art, a portfolio is required, while in the IB Visual Art an exhibition is required. Kariya took both of these on with a true dedication, Eduardo García, AP Studio Art teacher explains, “Thalasa had an excellent work ethic. She never shied away from a new challenge, worked very hard and independently.”

Her work in AP Studio Art from her junior and senior years, required her to develop a portfolio. In doing so, García challenged Kariya to work with diverse media, styles, subjects and content. He explains, “The AP Studio Art course involves a lot of experimentation and every time I proposed a new technique, Thalasa was a student that never questioned the why. She embraced it as a new opportunity to learn, discover and grow her artistic abilities. This meant she openly adapted her work to all mediums we dealt with in the course: digital, physical and experimental.”

According to the AP, the portfolios consists of three sections:

  • The Range of Approaches (Breadth) section illustrates a range of ideas and approaches to art making.

  • The Sustained Investigation (Concentration) section shows sustained, deep, and multi-perspective investigation of a student-selected topic.

  • The Selected Works (Quality) section represents the student’s most successful works with respect to form and content.

The portfolios are assessed in three categories: Quality, Concentration, and Breadth. Each category is scored on a scale of 1 to 6, 1 being the lowest and 6 being the highest possible score. After the reading, the statisticians work the raw score into the 1-to-5 grades sent to students and schools. Kariya submitted a portfolio that García describes as follows. “Her signature art "style" or technique was producing beautiful realistic figurative renders of a specific subject. The recurring theme in her work throughout the year in the AP Studio course were K-Pop figures. She portrayed one specific "iconic" character as a means to raise the issue of "toxic masculinity" in the West and how in Asia progress against this trend and the "androgynous look" is mainstream.” She scored a 6 in Quality, a 6 in Concentration, and a 6 in Breadth, equaling a final perfect score of 5.

Working with Sean Buckley in IB Visual Art throughout her junior and the entirety of her senior year, he fostered her interest in K-Pop, but he also worked, like Patterson and García, to expand and integrate her interests with her technique, “K-pop was her thing. . . that’s when we started exploring the idea of obsession and take it into a further conversation besides the participant of but rather a focus on those who are obsessed.” Buckley would continue to work her and describes her work ethic, “Even though she was quiet she was fiercely intelligent . . . she never stopped; she always wanted better.” He would go onto share that even after Kariya’s first submission she would often return to the work to “make it more palpable, more interesting, more designed, more organized.” according to Buckley.

Etsuko and Kengo Kariya, Thalasa's parents during the 49th Art Fair

At the close of her senior year, the IB Visual Art exhibition required Kariya to explain the ways in which the works in the exhibition were connected and defend her artistic judgments on their impact on the overall presentation. Leading up to that exhibition, according to the IB, the student experiences in IB Visual art are to:  

  • Examine and compare the work of artists from different cultural contexts . . .  consider the contexts influencing their own work and the work of others.

  • Make art through a process of investigation, thinking critically and experimenting with techniques . . . apply identified techniques to their own developing work.

  • Develop an informed response to work and exhibitions they have seen and experienced . . . formulate personal intentions for creating and displaying their own artworks

However, it was Kariya’s exhibition titled Obsession which she developed in IB Visual Arts that would gain her greater accolades from the ASF community. Buckley explains the process he explored with Kariya, “If you look at any observational drawing it becomes a vehicle of obsession within itself by obsessing over the details, by obsessing over the organization of the components, the juxtaposition of the elements, the composition within itself that is the obsession of the artist that comes into play that is quite visible.” That is what Kariya explored in her exhibition. Buckley continued, “She just made the necessary translation between what she was already doing to something that could give her a stronger focus along the work.”

That focus paid off as her Obsession exhibition finalized her as this year’s Student Artist of the Year and would showcase her work at the 49th annual ASF Art Fair. Buckley attributes this selection, “There is an intimacy that’s within the work. You can tell there is a love. She took that moment of obsession to take a look at in an artistic and creative way. It is not just a drawing from a picture, but rather it is an artistic hand that has observed, obsessed, and fallen in love with the subject, and that is translated into the work.” To be selected for this premiere, the Parent Association Board reviews the showcase of IB exhibitions during the Spring. They in turn vote as a committee to select the Student Artist of the Year. Treasurer, Marcela Pino, shared by Kariya’s exhibition was chosen, “It was different. It was dramatic and colorful. It simply stood out and on its own – it was fantastic.” Kariya was surprised and honored to be selected. She would take the interim time between the notification at the end of her senior year and prior to the November 10 showing to create new pieces for the Art Fair.

One of the highest attended and highest grossing fundraising events organized and hosted by the ASF Parent Association, the Art Fair featured several professional and emerging artists. With over 4,000 attendees, this is a richly evolved event where Kariya’s exhibition would stand among experienced and professional artist and draw its own attention and acclaim, “I was impressed with her work. She really captured the details in everything she chose to illustrate,” expressed Science teacher, Tamara Dowis-Fernández, who visited the exhibition. Another sure supporter is Kariya’s sister Rika, who is also a young developing artist, shared “I think her art is amazing. I am very proud of my sister. She has been working very hard to get to the level she has achieved.”

Kariya quickly admits through the lens of maturity, “It’s funny because like most fans, I was determined to stay as a fan forever, but a small part of me knew that it was a temporary “teenage phase” to have a celebrity crush.” Thalasa Kariya is now a freshman at the International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan, where she is studying the Liberal Arts. She is not pursuing a study in art, she explains, “I want to keep art as a hobby because I produce art to create a time to reflect upon myself. Since I turned to art when I was internally unstable, I knew I didn’t want to stress or feel overwhelmed because of it.” Currently, Kariya is part of a large dance team at her university, which offers different genres from lock, house, hip-hop, jazz, and pop. She expounds, “I found it interesting how each genre picks up different beats even for the same song. Dancing is my new passion. However, I still carry on the interests that I gained throughout the three years at ASF, including media communication and visual representation.”

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