Eyes set on something fine... interview with emerging artist Jana Papantoniou

The Winner of the Shared Stories 2017 entries for the anthology Journey was recently announced. Jana Papantoniou, Year 12 student from Star of the Sea College, won for her work titled Concealment. The work comprises three drawings in black ink, and communicates the hidden struggle of a collective youth.

The Shared Stories theme of 'Journey' resulted in an exceptionally strong output of creative works that shined a light on the art of language in our personal journeys. Students explored their own journeys and those of others through poetry and prose, and visual mediums including painting, photography and sculpture.

Jana Papantoniou has described her work 'Concealment' as layers of innocence and the playful act of dress-up juxtaposing with the states of anxiety and depression.

Her personal journey as an artist marks struggle and triumph, and above all growth and the ability to communicate. Being colour blind and working despite a sight impairment is hard enough. It requires her to physically work with her materials just centimetres from her face in order to see. One therefore might think her challenge lies in the immediate matters of producing art in any realised form. But this is not the case. Her work is a visual exploration of the double-edged sword of dealing with anxiety and depression inwardly, while at the same time having to 'present' oneself to the outside world.

The artist spoke candidly about the message in Concealment and what it means to be recognised as an emerging talent on her journey through her school years.


The theme of Journey…what has yours been like so far?

I've been drawing since I could hold a pen. I was doing art classes from about ten years old. I did art in school, but I don't think I saw that it would grow into something I would do as a profession until I was 14 or 15.

Black and white drawings emerged as my style. I'm colour blind. I can use colour obviously, but I can't personally understand the colour and it feels fake if I use it. So with my eyesight I'm really attracted to contrast, and use fine line art ink and paint or pen, it's my preferred method. I definitely focused on this in my later years. I knew I would do art as a VCE subject and I really can't live without drawing.

With my eyesight, I really probably should embrace technology but there's something very personal in this way of working with pen and paper. I love it.


What is Concealment about?

Concealment was my Year 12 art work VCE project. It consists of three works that were all combined to represent the theme of concealment.

It's about how mental health is taboo for teenagers. From what I've seen and personally... I have a disability with my eyes and I can seek help and I can talk about it, but if I'm struggling with anxiety I feel it's something that needs to be talked about behind closed doors. That's more debilitating than a physical disability for me. I'm automatically embarrassed, it's an internal battle and I'm not sure what the answer is and how to change that.

Concealment is about how people put on this false happiness, and so this work is also about how concealing ones feelings can contribute to further distress and make it worse. Having to put on a fake happiness is a pressure for teenagers.

I felt pressure to be original in whatever I chose for my VCE art submission. But I was passionate about this work. This is my third year of being part of the published anthology and it's good to know that people appreciate the aesthetic aspect of what they see, also the message in the work.

Winning was amazing for me, it feels very special when others recognise that there is something special about a work. The mask is my favourite piece of the three works in Concealment. When you love something so much personally, it's feels so good to have that recognised by others.

It also felt good to do the work. It's comprised of very small dots, I was working with paper and ink about 2 cm from my face, in a repetitive motion. It is very relaxing. It didn't need to be done only when I had an inspired moment.

Where will the journey take to you next?

I will always keep drawing. I cannot live without pen and paper. I will see if this journey finds a way into a professional job. It's a sort of therapy for me. I do it every day, if not every other day.

The immediate future may be a University of Melbourne Arts Degree and later a transfer into a Fine Arts Degree. I'm not the kind of person that has an end goal in sight, I just want to experience things and find inspiration wherever I can.

Are there other challenges for teenagers during their VCE year?

I think that the VCE year is simultaneously very social and very isolating. You are constantly consulting with teachers and friends, there are a multitude of 18th birthdays, a Prom. Then you also have to retreat and work on what is going to be finally assessed. The Star is such a warm environment and I loved the school so much. My exams were twice as long as everyone else, there were some exams where I sat at a desk for six hours. It was exhausting.

Now I really want to immerse myself in a university environment and learn.

-This is the fourth year that CCI Personal Insurance has given financial support to such an inspiring and collaborative initiative. Not only does CCI's assistance celebrate ideas that drive education in the community, it plays a practical role in supporting a legacy of shared community activity, thereby making a difference in the Catholic community in more ways than one.