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Despite the challenges of the pandemic, more than 90 Marin high school artists submitted work for RISING STARS, the annual showcase at Youth in Arts.

The exhibition features outstanding drawings, paintings, sculpture, mixed media, photography and other works from the best high school art students in Marin. It can be viewed virtually on our website. Selected works can also be seen in person at the YIA Gallery at 917 C St. in San Rafael starting April 12 (weekdays from 1 to 4 pm).

Amelie Benicio, 18, won Best in Show – the same prize she won 2 years ago for a mixed media work. This year, Amelie submitted her largest painting yet – a 60 by 60 inch portrait inspired by a photograph of actor Maliq Johnson in the Netflix show, Grand Army.

Encouraged by her mother, artist Angelique Benicio, to work looser and bigger, Amelie spent about seven hours working on the large canvas using a pencil, rag, acrylic marker and oil paint. Her painting is called Below the Surface.

Amelie, who attends San Rafael High School, plans to study art at UCSB this Fall. She has already painted commissions for friends and coworkers, selling one portrait for $700.

RISING STARS is important because it gives teens a professional venue in which to show their work, she said.

“For kids, especially at our age, we’re all experiencing so many different things,” she said. “It’s a really special thing when teenagers are able to show you exactly how they are feeling.”

Another prize winner was Hillsborough resident James Lee (Jamesey on Instagram). James attends Oak Hill School in San Anselmo, which serves students experiencing autism.

James has already gained attention for his abstract works. With the help of his mother, artist Crisanta de Guzman, he sold about 30 pieces at an auction last year that raised nearly $10,000 for his school. One of his paintings was also selected recently as part of the de Young Open exhibition. 

In RISING STARS, James won the Dominican University of California prize for his abstract work, Pandemic Fuchsia.

“There’s so much sensory delight in his painting process, and I think that’s the result of autism,” de Guzman said. “Certainly the canvases are very saturated.”

After working abstractly, her son often takes a Sharpie and adds his personal iconography: swimming pools, boats and people. He also takes joyful pride in being able to stretch his own canvases.

“When things shut down (because of the pandemic) there really wasn’t much else to do,” deGuzman said. “He just started painting every day.”

The show runs through May 14, 2021. Visual art teachers from public, private and alternative high schools nominated their top students for the juried show. 

The exhibition was blindly adjudicated. This year’s judges include photographer Melissa McArdle, artist Sirima Sataman, and artist and Associate Professor of Art Lynn Sondag (Dominican University).  Sponsors include College of Marin, Dominican University, Marin Open Studios, RileyStreet Art Supply, and the San Anselmo Arts Commission. 

College of Marin has generously offered one-semester scholarships to winners of best in show and best in category.

“It is always such an honor to be a judge for Youth in Arts RISING STARS,” McArdle said. “This year was a little different considering we were unable to view the pieces in person, yet the feeling of the artistic and creative talents offered by the students was nothing less than extraordinary.

 “The entries of this year’s RISING STARS touched on the very essence of so many feelings, struggles and poignant events that have shaped this past year offering, once again, the valid evidence of how important art is to life and living,” she added.

This year’s participants include The Branson School, High School 1327, Oak Hill School, Redwood High School, Marin Academy, Marin Catholic High School, San Domenico School, San Rafael High School, Tamalpais High School, Tamiscal High School, Terra Linda High School and Tomales High School.

Artist Susan Diglioni founded RISING STARS in 1991, believing that young artists should be recognized for their talents.


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