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Senior Independent Projects: The Ambition of Jerry Zhang


Hey! Yells Jasmine Li as the projector whirrs on and white light blasts into her eyes. Art students shift spots to avoid the glare, shining on two massive panels of canvas. Just a  few weeks ago, tables and chairs were wheeled away to make room for an incredibly ambitious independent project. Senior Jerry Zhang has undertaken the challenge of painting two new chapel banners. He is currently tracing his sketch onto the 5 by 8 by 2 foot banner. Lucky for Jasmine and others, he will move onto painting soon, and the art students can return to their typical seats. Yet, moving seating arrangements is a small price to pay for the exciting masterpiece in the works.


The Bell writer Leela Weisser interviews Jerry on his project and what’s coming next in his art career. 


 Can you tell us about your upcoming senior Independent Project and what you are planning to depict?

A mural project for the chapel banners. I plan on depicting the journey of a high schooler moving through St Stephens and coming out to change the world. 

What themes or concepts are you exploring in this new work?

Exploring color and movement. A big challenge is I’ve never created a community piece. It is hard to depict figures without making one group of people. It will picture different races, genders, and middle and high school differences. I had to think about how I was going to depict my piece so that anyone from our school could see themselves in this piece.

The solution to represent everyone was the 4 figures having different shades of skin tone and having different shades of hair and texture corresponding to ethnicity. But similar clothing for continuity.

I also decided to make the hair grow throughout the panels, as a physical representation of personal growth throughout high school.

What mediums or techniques are you using to bring your vision to life?

Acrylic on canvas.

I bought bigger brushes and am using house paint, which is a cheaper price, especially for mural size to not waste on paint. 

How does this project differ from your previous work, if at all?

This project is different for three reasons. If I was just working on something by myself it wouldn’t be anywhere close to this size so this gave me the opportunity to be ambitious. Another thing about this project is I get to work with a professional artist, who is going to guide me and mentor me and help me. Will Hatch Crosby (who is also a St Stephen’s alumni)  has been in the professional art field for a really long time, his specialty is doing murals. He’s already given me really great advice and working with someone like him is going to be very beneficial. 

Lastly, by doing this I get to inspire younger Spartan artists to not be afraid to push yourself and just create. 

Are there any specific messages or emotions you hope viewers will take away from experiencing your project?

In the grand scheme of things, high school is only really a small part of their life, but everything you take away from this place is still very important. What’s more important is you apply what you learn here to the real world. 

His mural project is a demonstration of this real world application fostered by the art opportunities St Stephens offers. 

How do you envision your project fitting into the current art landscape or cultural context? Any specific details that make this a 2024 art piece or 2024 Jerry’s work? 

Not specifically. I didn’t include on the right side of my painting on the path, I didn’t include technology because I see tech as a tool to help us learn better. I didn’t include computers or AI because I wanted to take away a pure form of the things you take away from school

Making a timeless piece of art as opposed to a time capsule. 

Are there any particular artists, movements, or historical references that have influenced this project?

Will Crosby was a lot of inspiration. Not inspired by many other artists, but inspired by the school prayer. What I really took into account was the part that says “Seeing our life as a journey together empower us to make a difference in the world.” This inspired me to make the panel on the left. I started out with the Earth. The “journey together” was the stairway climbing up the Earth, and the “making the difference in the world” is the staircase spiraling around the world. 

What do you hope to achieve or accomplish with this project, both personally and artistically? What will you take away personally? 

I think what I’ll take away is the process by which I approach an art project. I learned from the mentor and got a lot of feedback. So in that part I’ve already taken away a lot. And finding spaces to set up. For this piece I had to move a lot of things and think about a place I could work consistently. I’ll definitely take away the painting process and how to develop the murals project and how to work on it because it’s so big, I’ll need to step back because the size I typically use is 18” to 24”. Compositionally use design aspects to learn how to make things flow better. 

 Lastly, where can people learn more about your work and stay updated on the progress of this project? What will you do next?

He’ll keep his Instagram up to date. As tagged below. Be sure to check it out to follow the mural project. 

My freshman year at RISD will be very busy. I’ll try to really experiment with the different mediums and the different materials that RISD has to offer. For example the ceramics studio, printmaking, or textiles. I feel like anything is possible, I just plan to meet  new people, share ideas, and take advantage of the facilities to grow further as an artist. 

I recommend for future artists to just get yourselves out there and take every opportunity there is to make more art.

You can find the work of Will Hatch Crosby here.

You can find Jerry’s instagram here.

About the Contributor
Leela Weisser, Editor
Leela Weisser is an 11th-grade day student and The Bell’s resident graphic designer/illustrator. In addition to running cross country and playing tennis, her art is frequently displayed in the Helm Gallery.