Top Arts 2021 presents an exemplary group of works by forty-six emerging artists from government, Catholic and independent schools across metropolitan and regional Victoria. Held annually and presented as part of the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority’s (VCAA) Season of Excellence festival, this year’s exhibiting VCE Art and Studio Art students have created works within the unprecedented challenges of 2020. Their works echo the feelings of the wider community and express ideas related to isolation, contemporary life, the everyday, nature and the environment, identity and questions of the self. For many of the artists, creating work in lockdown enabled innovation in the selection and use of materials. Alongside more traditional media, including painting, sculpture and drawing, artists have also created works from unconventional materials, such as foil wrappers, wool and found objects.
Close to 1300 students applied to exhibit in Top Arts 2021. Of these submissions, 131 works were shortlisted before the final selection of forty-six works, which have been curated into two overarching themes: ‘outside’ and ‘inside’.
For Top Arts exhibitors, the confines of lockdown in 2020 meant working in isolation for much of the year. This backdrop of uncertain times led to many students making art in response to the world around them, including nature, the home, everyday objects, politics and the news.
Lucy Schacher created Routine, which conveys her search for happiness in the everyday. For Schacher, routine became a source of solace during lockdown. Her series of paintings amplify small details from her daily life, giving them intensity, vibrancy and joy.
So, too, in Life size 2, Sophie Tanner pays tribute to the little-observed moments of the everyday: a simple gesture or a freshly picked flower, to encourage us to pause and become more mindful of the beauty in our immediate surroundings.
Similarly, Bronte Green focuses on the understated beauty of suburbia in her work Streets of your town. Painted with precision in warm hues, Green creates familiarity and sentimentality from the seemingly banal aspects of everyday living.
Taking a different approach, Luca Feldman sought escapism in literature during much of 2020. His reading of Jim Thompson’s crime novel Pop. 1280 transported him to a troubled fictional town called Potts Country, which Feldman evokes through violent clashes of colour and line in his large-scale abstract painting.
Other students featured in Top Arts 2021 turned their gaze inward and explored themes of cultural and personal identity, emotion, mental health and isolation. The self-reflection expressed by these young artists is authentic and vulnerable, inviting connection and empathy.
Angus Stewart’s Know your worth is an investigation into the human form and psyche. His work features an androgynous figure with distorted features suspended in a display case. Made in response to messages and images on social media, as well as personal experiences, the work mirrors Stewart’s own self-reflection and self-acceptance and is described by the artist as ‘a love letter to myself’.
Tomas Ording-Jespersen also examined identity in his self-portrait Finding balance. The central face on this small-scale work is surrounded by a chaotic assemblage of emoji-like symbols, providing insight into Ording-Jespersen’s emotional state and experiences as he explores, in his words, ‘a major turning point in adolescence and the discovery of identity’.
Inspired by her own immigration story and childhood in the vibrant Vietnamese community of Richmond, Haiyue (Jojo) Zheng’s Going home explores the ever-changing meaning of home. In her digital drawing, Zhang draws attention to the courage and determination of immigrants, including those displaced from Vietnam during the 1970s refugee crisis, and encourages an ongoing dialogue about issues affecting refugees and displaced people.
Francesca Di Paolo verbalises the difficulties of adapting to a new culture by way of slam poetry in Mother(land) – a poem about immigration. Di Paolo’s video work highlights issues of discrimination, erasure of culture, religion, tradition and socioeconomic struggles. In this work, among a rich tapestry of audio and visuals, repetition of the words ‘mother isn’t made, she is just disappointed’ drives home the challenges of migration.
Top Arts 2021 exhibition website
As part of the practical work requirements to complete VCE Art and VCE Studio Arts, students are required to keep visual diaries and folios to reveal their inspirations, ideas and practices. They show how students resolve their thoughts in relation to a work, through brainstorming and research, trialling ideas, playing with materials and honing their techniques to ultimately produce at least one resolved work.
The Top Arts 2021 exhibition website features select folio and visual diary pages from this year’s students, interviews, as well as a range of educator-led learning programs. The website is intended as an online resource to provide inspiration and encouragement for current VCE Art and VCE Studio Arts students, and audiences of all ages.
Top Arts 2021 is testament to the resilience of the exhibiting artists who achieved excellence in an extraordinary year. The NGV is proud to continue to foster art education and offer a forum where young people can creatively express themselves through art.
Top Arts Hub
For inspiration and insights, explore past Top Arts exhibitions