East St. Louis High school senior Andra Lang has given the bland, beige walls of the Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation Center a wake-up call.
Giant horizontal hair braids he painted in vibrant red, yellow, purple, blue, pink and orange flow like waves across three canvases that hang along a hallway at the center on State Street in East St. Louis.
“It came out amazing,” Andra said of the series he calls “Two Strands.”
The series is one of 10 pieces he created this summer for the center which commissioned the 17-year-old to create works inspired by movement.
“I went with it, and the journey just took me where I needed to go,” Andra said. “The motion of the paintings is supposed to inspire people to think and create and imagine themselves and wonder what can I possibly do. I would imagine that would be connected to good health and good will.”
He didn’t face this daunting challenge alone. The foundation assigned graphic designer Marcy Livingston to mentor him
She described Andra as “one of the most ambitious teenagers” she ever met. Livingston encouraged him to take chances, keep a portfolio of his work and build up a tough skin.
Andra was an aspiring artist with big ideas but little resources when he launched a fundraising site through GoFundMe.com earlier this year. He wanted to raise money he needed to pay for a prestigious summer program at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. After a story about his efforts was published in the Belleville News-Democrat, the community rallied around Andra, and he raised more than enough money to attend the program.
According to the site, just under 100 people donated $4,300 to Andra. His goal was $4,000.
Andra described the art program he attended in July as “very intense.”
“It worked you very hard, as if you were in your final weeks in college,” he said. “They had to take a class they normally teach you over a semester and put it in two weeks.”
Despite the pace, Andra liked the energy of the other participants and his instructors.
“The people I met were amazing; they taught me so much,” he said.
He was particularly fond of instructor Christian Rieben, who taught him:
▪ Have fun, play with the paint
▪ Just let go
▪ Don’t be afraid
Andra was surprised when he found out Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation wanted to commission his paintings.
“You never expect the unexpected, but it happened and I’m very grateful for it,” he said.
Through Andra’s artwork, Larry McCulley, CEO of Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation, said they improved the aesthetics of State Street Center with “art that truly reflects the East St. Louis region and helped support the dreams of a talented and ambitious young man.”
Andra described the experience as “amazing.” He especially enjoyed creating his pieces at the foundation’s executive office in East St. Louis and having the opportunity to work in a professional environment.
“It gave me a chance to meet people who work for the company,” Andra said. “They gave a lot of great advice.”
He created 10 pieces total — eight single pieces and two series of three — with an overarching theme of movement.
His favorite piece is the last one he created named “Lovely Fruit.” He painted it after his two-week art program in Chicago. It incorporates lots of different colors and textures.
“I learned so much,” Andra said. “I love how the colors came out and how it mixed.”
His painting “Picture Me Rolling” hangs in the children’s waiting area at the center. An orange sphere on a sloping hill appears to be rolling into a river of chocolate milk.
The painting, “Walk in My Shoes,” hanging in a triage room was inspired by McCulley. It depicts a pair of boots walking on a textured cliff. It was the first time Andra said he used a palette knife to create texture in one of his paintings.
Andra hopes his artwork inspires “many people to come” to the center, Andra said. “It’s nice that it’s going somewhere, where it counts,” he said. “People who are familiar with art, they see art. People who are not familiar with art, they see something much more — they see inspiration.”
After high school, Andra wants to attend the School of Art Institute of Chicago.
“I’m looking forward to what life has to offer,” he said. “I’m very eager to see what’s next. I know whatever is next it’s got to be very big.”