SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Katie Reo, a senior at South Plainfield High School (SPHS), will have her original artwork featured in the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s (NJPAC) 2017 Late Winter Exhibit being held in conjunction with Art Educators of New Jersey (AENJ) this month.

Reo’s charcoal drawing, which was one of just 20 selected from hundreds of submissions sent in by high school students throughout the state, will be on display in the lobby of the Newark-based center’s Victoria Theatre, beginning Feb. 5.

“It feels amazing,” said Reo of having her artwork selected. “I never thought my artwork would be exhibited. It has been a dream come true.”

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For the NJPAC Late Winter Exhibit, a total of 30 pieces were selected - 10 vertical and 20 horizontal – with the only criteria being the size of the artwork, which could not exceed 18 x 24.

“That makes it very interesting because students are submitting work in all mediums which always makes the selection process difficult,” said Allison McLaughlin, Advanced Studio teacher at SPHS. “It is always an easier to task to compare two paintings or two drawings, but when you are comparing paintings to collages or drawings to prints, that is not an easy task. They are comparing works in all different mediums.”

Reo’s drawing took two weeks to complete and was created for a class project in which students were asked to make a charcoal portrait from a photo in their portfolio. “Charcoal and chalk are my favorite mediums. I always love how messy it is and it is a lot of fun to use,” Reo said, adding that she found the portrait of the baby she drew on Pinterest.

Last year, a different one of Reo’s charcoal drawings earned honorable mention at the duCret Annual High School Art Show and, initially the high school senior planned to submit that piece to the NJPAC exhibit. At the advice of McLaughlin, however, Reo entered her charcoal drawing of a baby instead.

“I really encouraged Katie to submit this particular piece because I felt it really demonstrated how much she had refined her charcoal drawings. Charcoal is a difficult medium to work with, I find it difficult to really capture small details, but by looking at Katie's drawing, you wouldn't think that was true,” McLaughlin said.

“My favorite part of this project was watching Katie work on the eyes. As soon as she gave the drawing the eyes, it really came to life. It is remarkable how realistic they look, how smooth the skin appears and how soft the hair seems,” added McLaughlin. "To be able to capture so many different features so accurately in such a free flowing medium, that is really a testament to her ability.”

“I loved the eyes of the baby and the hair. I've never drawn a baby before so I thought it would be a fun challenge,” said Reo.

As a member of AENJ, McLaughlin can provide her students with the opportunity to submit work to shows like NJPAC along with the upcoming Middlesex County Youth Art Month Show at Middlesex Community College and NJPAC Spring Show as well as the duCret High School Art Show and the Congressional Art Competition.

“Not only does AENJ provide these wonderful shows which showcase our talented students, they also provide professional development for teachers and scholarships for our students,” McLaughlin said. “I try to provide all of my students with various art opportunities and encourage all of my students to participate in these art shows because they are a great way for them to showcase their tremendous talent outside of South Plainfield.”

According to Reo’s mom Sandy, her daughter began showing an interest and talent for art back when she attended Kennedy Elementary School and, often, would sit and paint or draw for hours at a time. A little over a year ago, she began taking private art lessons with Sandra Cerchio of Scotch Plains and, over the past year has painted murals for a community service project at the Mountainside-based Image Center. Additionally, Reo recently sold her first piece of artwork, a charcoal drawing of singer Dave Matthews, to a family friend.

"Katie amazes me every time she draws or paints,” said mom Sandy. “I'm so very proud of her and look forward to seeing where her talent takes her.” 

Following graduation, Reo plans to attend a community college while working to build her portfolio. Her goal is to go on to study art at New York’s Pratt Institute or School of Visual Arts and maybe, one day, work in a museum. Additionally, she hopes to continue making her own works of art.

“I would also love to have my artwork shown and for people to enjoy it,” said Reo, adding that her advice to others looking to pursue their talent and interest in art is to ‘go for it.' 

“Even if you feel like you're not good enough you should still try. If you are passionate about art then draw, paint, or sculpt as much as you can,” she said. “The world needs more art!”

A reception showcasing the artwork of Reo and other selected for the NJPAC Late Winter Exhibit will be held Sunday, Feb. 5 at 11 a.m. in the Victoria Theatre Lobby, 1 Center Street, Newark. The public is invited to attend. Admission is free.