High school seniors everywhere commemorate their graduation by donning a cap and gown and sitting for a formal photograph. Serious or smiling, the students reveal their anticipation for leaving high school and a future of promise. This year, 13 UrbanPromise seniors gave new meaning to this tradition when they were invited to sit for artists at Studio Incamminati, School for Contemporary Realist Art, an accredited private school for artists in Philadelphia, and have their portraits professionally painted.
Each of the paintings, done in Alla Prima style, will be scanned and displayed in a permanent “wall of fame” exhibition at UP, said Sandy Newhall, the Education Coordinator for UrbanPromise.
Alla Prima is an “at once” style of capturing a subject in a single sitting, resulting in a less finished, but more expressive piece that is well suited to young people. The UP seniors sat for a three-hour, one-on-one session with an artist—not an easy task for anyone, but well worth it. Studio Incamminati President Jay Pennie said “It is amazing what an artist can learn about the subject in three hours. We get more than a little bit of personality on the canvas and give a chance for a student to see his or her own inner beauty.”
He explained that the chance to sit for a painted portrait is a rare opportunity once reserved for those deemed important—Kings, Queens, heads of state and the like. Sitting for a portrait subtlety validates that these youths are also important. “This is not the air brushed cover of a glossy magazine,” Pennie said. “They have to get past just how they look. The finished portrait captures their intelligence and the hopes of their whole lives ahead.”
Newhall has taken the students to the studio for the last three years, and sees their trepidation at being painted turn into something quite different. “They move from ‘Do I really look like this?’ to something much deeper—it is a good opportunity for self reflection.”
The students, whom she knows well, are matched with artists in what has become an intriguing process. One senior girl was matched with an artist from Japan, who had survived the bombings of World War II. “It is good for students to learn from artists who are resilient and pursued their dreams,” according to Newhall. ”Our students are really moved by that.”
Studio Incamminati was introduced to UrbanPromise through community outreach that started when one of the school’s teaching fellows, Haddonfield artist Natalie Italiano, included several UrbanPromise students in her project “100 Alla Prima Paintings of American Teenagers” in 2012. The senior portrait painting has grown each year and has become part of the program offering at Studio Incamminati as a project for advanced-level artists. While it gives UrbanPromise seniors a chance to interact with working artists and learn everything from painting techniques to lighting to – the hardest lesson of all -sitting still, it also has become a valued part of what the studio offers its artists.
“It fits into our mission, said Pennie. “We want our students to learn the technical skills of painting, make a living in the arts and give back to the community.”