A collaborative installation, When I Look at You I See, was the culminating project of the Chiaroscuro Spiral Workshop group. Students in Chiaroscuro began the semester by learning to use strong juxtapositions of dark and light to create dramatic three-dimensional looking artworks. Early in the semester they concentrated on drawing and then later moved into creating large, painted portraits in black and white.

Each week the students looked at and discussed artworks by such artists as Luis Jiménez, Gabriel Orozco, Charles White, Kathe Kollwitz, and John Biggers. These works helped students to understand the formal issues of effective value contrasts in drawing. During weekly slide shows, the teachers also began to introduce works in which the dark and light values had symbolic meaning. Gradually a class conversation developed about the European and American symbolic conventions of associating dark with death, ignorance, and evil and associating white with purity, transcendence, and good. Through studying works by Tom Feelings and Horace Pippin in which white and black symbolism do not follow these conventional Western patterns, students were taught to question the naturalness of particular symbolic associations.

The teens were introduced to increasingly conceptually challenging works by artists who have explored issues of race and color in American life. These included such works as Lorna Simpson’s juxtapositions of photographs of black women’s bodies with framing texts and David Hammons’ controversial "How Ya Like Me Now?" in which Jesse Jackson becomes a blonde blue-eyed white man. By exposing students to this work they are drawn into a complex cultural conversation about how identity is constructed in contemporary America.

Inspired by the risky and sometimes controversial work of contemporary artists, the Spiral Workshop teens and teachers combined their large black and white self-portraits with other elements to create When I Look at You I See. The students used stencils of eyes, spray paint, markers, and overhead projectors to make a dramatic public statement. The text accompanying each portrait described the messages that these urban teens saw reflected in the gaze of adults who look at them and make judgments about them. Through large-scale collaborative projects, the students learned to break out of artistic isolation and how to use their artmaking skills to make themselves seen and heard in positive ways.



The Spiral Workshop 1998 Chiaroscuro group was led by Eileen Lacy, Sarah Liles, and Spiral Workshop Director Olivia Gude.