“Inside Out…Artists paint with their guts”

That’s what the saying claims. What if we took it further and pretended that paintings are mere outside versions of the organs of their painters?

That’s the postulate that was given to the 11 year-old students of QSI Zhuhai by their art teacher, Isabel Raposo. The assignment was to select a painting and to draw the organs of its painter using the style of the artist. There was no limitation in terms of period in time, nationality of the painter nor style. The diversity of the paintings chosen showed the eclectic tastes of the students and was also an opportunity to discover new artists and painting styles. The range went from Picasso to Monet, including Mondrian, Pollock, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O Keeffe, Klimt and Derain, representing as many styles as realism, cubism, abstraction, surrealism, Art Nouveau, Impressionism and Post Impressionism, expressionism, American modernism and fauvism. The artists were from France, Spain, Netherlands, Austria, USA and Mexico. 

Students could choose the same painter but they had to present different paintings. Hence, Picasso was chosen twice, for his Blue period and for his cubist period. Derain also appeared twice, as Monet did. Two students took the challenge further and combined several paintings of the same artist. Sofia, analyzing Georgia O Keeffe’s paintings, chose to represent the famous enlarged flowers of the artist as well as her remarkable cow-skulls, harmoniously tied together by the landscape of New Mexico. Cybille, fascinated by Frida Kahlo’s life and her ability to transcend her pain through art, incorporated the iconic flowers of the Mexican painter to bring some softness to the broken steel spine and piercing nails, used as the depiction of the suffering that affected Frida all her life.

The predominant and recommended medium was oil pastels. Most of the students sticked to it. Some added other media in order to display better the style of their artist. Marina had a lot of fun recreating Pollock’s drip paint style, and Linnea highlighted her delicate and vibrant artwork inspired by Klimt’s “Tree of life” with painted golden spirals and geometric shapes. 

The students extracted the main elements of their selection of paintings but also studied the human body in order to be accurate in the representation of the organs. They saw further than just the mere representation of the human body and, in doing so, really understood that the beauty of an artwork is not directly linked to its subject, as the “Carcass of beef” by Rembrandt magnificently shows it.  

The students extracted the elements they wanted to highlight. With no surprise, Alan and George scrupulously organized their colored rectangles, so typical of Mondrian’s style, in order to give a feeling of fluidity to their drawing. Jason was a bit perplexed by Picasso’s abstract style and how to represent it but he finally found the switch that allowed him to complete and enjoy his project. Tomas learned to work with values and became a master in the different shades of blue in order to honor Picasso’s blue period, as did Kylie who carefully collected all the shades of blue she could in order to depict Van Gogh’s beautiful “Starry night”. Olivia and Vanessa were a bit destabilized by the bold colors chosen by the Fauvist Derain but they finally internalized the style of the colorful painter and they were able to find their own way to express it. Jaita and Angela worked a lot on the shading of their drawing in order to render the beauty, softness and poetic style of the “Nympheas” by Monet. 

The students really enjoyed working on the project. They took it as their own artwork and not just as a class assignment, for 6 consecutive periods. The results are beyond expectations. The artworks were framed and displayed at school during the Winter concert. Each of them was accompanied by the picture of the student who painted it, while working on it. In order to bring it to the 21st century, the art teacher presented it as an interactive display: visitors were invited to match online the artworks of the students with the original paintings that inspired them, by scanning a QR code that was especially created for the show. Teachers, parents and students participated in the game.  The show “Inside Out” was very well received by the families, and by the students and the staff of the school. It was a formidable opportunity to honor wonderful paintings of the art world history but also the work of our students in a modern and playful way.