Annie Hanlon claims there's truth in art. A truth the homeschooled senior illustrates in her charcoal portrait of a friend, Lydia Freeman, that won her "Best in Show" at the Artistic Excellence juried competition supported by the Arts Alliance Mountain Empire.
"It strikes you when you see it," said Dottie Havlik, president of Arts Alliance Mountain Empire. "It gives the impression of being technically excellent, but it also conveys an emotion to you immediately."
The sense of calm that Havlik finds in the portrait, which is on display along with the other 75 entries at the William King Regional Arts Center in Abingdon through Saturday (April 25, 2009), is only one of the elements that brought her the best in show honors.
Hank Foreman, the competition's visiting juror from Appalachian State University, said Hanlon's piece stands out because it capitalizes on what drawing should be.
"When selecting work for a group exhibition where there are lots of artists who work with lots of media, subjects and techniques, what I look for is the total experience of the work," Foreman said. "Annie Hanlon's work was selected as best in show because it exhibited the strongest melding of skill, technique and content."
The content is something Hanlon strives to reflect based on each subject.
"I like the challenge of really trying to portray a person and describing who they are," Hanlon said. "When you look at a school picture, they're kind of generic; but sometimes you get a picture and it really captures who that person is and you can tell what type of personality they have. I try to do that with artwork."
Looking at Hanlon's portfolio, various faces, figures and scenes portray a multitude of emotions from a variety of perspectives.
"There are kids that have what I call the artist eye," Paulette Leonard said about Hanlon. Leonard taught Hanlon in art classes from kindergarten through the eighth grade at St. Anne's in Bristol. "They see things differently than everyone else."
Hanlon said she learned to look at art uniquely while working on an assignment from a class at Virginia Intermont, where she takes classes on campus for college and high-school credit. She needed to find an object to sketch, but didn't see anything worth drawing at home. When her mom encouraged her to look again, Hanlon's perspective changed.
"When you start to look closer, you begin to find truth," Hanlon said. "Maybe it's something you wouldn't really expect to be beautiful, but when you look at it, it really is."
Part of finding that beauty takes persistence, and Leonard said, that's something Hanlon has had since kindergarten.
"She was able to stay with a project, not get frustrated, and not give up," Leonard said. "Nothing was too challenging. She was eager to try new things and learn from her mistakes."
As Hanlon wraps up high school this year, she is considering majoring in fine arts and special education. Meanwhile, she'll continue to look for art in the every day.
"I don't know who said this, but I heard it in a class, that you should write about what you know and I think that is true in art," Hanlon said. "You should draw what you know. Your life experiences really add to your art."