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These Sunshine Coast high school painters bend reality, blur boundaries

'It’s really exciting being able to look at reality and mould it to your mind, letting you see [more clearly]. And experiments are always interesting': Chatelech Secondary School senior art students held a mid-year showcase.
Chatelech Secondary painters Molly Riepe and Grace Yoo stand in one of two school galleries dedicated to senior students’ artworks.

Paintings by more than 50 senior art students at Sechelt’s Chatelech Secondary School reveal a generational reckoning with self-identity and cultural friction. 

The school’s mid-year showcase, curated by instructor and illustrator Brett Jasch, followed four months of classroom focus on traditions ranging from surrealism to the politically-charged art of protest. 

“Just pushing reality is always exciting from an artist’s perspective,” said Molly Riepe, a Grade 11 student. “It’s really exciting being able to look at reality and mould it to your mind, letting you see [more clearly]. And experiments are always interesting.” 

One of Riepe’s experiments is an acrylic portrait of a flaxen-eyed cat with an elongated neck. The feline stands upright, its frame draped in a sleeveless emerald evening gown. A long-stemmed poppy grazes one thrusting thigh, extended like that of a country club socialite caught mid-tango. 

“I wanted her to look surreal and ghastly in a way,” reflected Riepe. “I wanted her to make you uncomfortable because it is unnatural.”  

Riepe, who is transfeminine, was purposeful about her work’s juxtaposition of species and contexts. “Being able to see feminine power in such a surreal way is very true to myself,” she said, “as is being able to assert who you are regardless of what you are on the outside. Even though [the cat’s] body is a bit malformed, she is glamorous.” 

Metamorphosis is a common theme of the Chatelech works, reflected in the hoodie-clad skulls of Seth Martin, and the manga-inspired punk portraiture of Maaike Godfrey. Even in landscapes, transfiguration is afoot. Owen Bichler’s sawtoothed mountain range is pictured at dusk, mauve shadows stealing implacably across its fractured slopes. 

Among the submissions by Grade 12 student Grace Yoo is a lachrymose study in acrylic of the Caryatid porch at the Acropolis in Athens. One of the six caryatids, sculpted female figures that support a marble superstructure, was removed by Lord Elgin in the 19th century and subsequently deposited in the British Museum. 

Yoo’s painting shows the displaced sculpture in the centre, flanked by crimson shadows of her sisters with their heads turned inward. 

“I wanted to personify the image of colonialism and the theft of artifacts,” said Yoo. “Also, by making her a woman, [it emphasizes] the issue of women being moved from their places and treated as objects. I really wanted to signify that the other statues are looking for her because she’s not there with them.” 

Yoo’s work was inspired by her survey of activist art, during which she zeroed in on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. 

For Riepe, motivated by her mother’s art practice and conscious of West Coast creativity’s long history (her uncle is of the Heiltsuk Nation), growing up on the Sunshine Coast foments a spectrum of speculative futures. She has toyed with becoming a tattoo artist, or perhaps a stonemason. “I want to see where I can go using my art while still living successfully, either on the Coast or not,” she said. “I haven’t yet opened Pandora’s Box.” 

Yoo plans to study veterinary science after graduation, and to complement her painterly talent with creative writing. “I feel like there are a lot of ideas that I have that I kind of want to put into words,” she said. “And I still have a lot of stuff that I want to do before I put down my paintbrush.” 

The Chatelech showcase, now in its final week in the high school’s atrium, will return with supplementary works at the end of the school year.