Metro-East News

World traveling artist visits Freeburg High

Belleville's Art on the Square exhibitor shows Freeburg High students screen printing

Artist Kenyatta Ray talks about the process he goes through to make his art and helps students create works of their own. Ray's work will be on display at this weekend's Art on the Square festival in downtown Belleville.
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Artist Kenyatta Ray talks about the process he goes through to make his art and helps students create works of their own. Ray's work will be on display at this weekend's Art on the Square festival in downtown Belleville.

Kenyatta Ray’s image of a man rowing a boat on the Ganges River in India in 1986 found its way to the center of the Freeburg High School art room Thursday.

Ray was one of nine Art on the Square artists who visited metro-east schools as part of the Artist in Residence Program.

“The Boat Man” was paddling on the Ganges River early in the morning when Ray encountered him. Ray told the Freeburg High students the Ganges is a “sacred river” for Hindus.

Ray, who grew up in Chicago and has lived in Belgium for 25 years, said he travels to developing countries and takes photos of people he meets.

“I do that because in the States, we know very little about other cultures,” he said.

Ray talked to the students about his technique of transforming his photographs into silk screen art.

Ray, who still uses film, first has the photographs scanned into a computer.

I do that because in the States, we know very little about other cultures.

Artist Kenyatta Ray, commenting on why he produces images captured while traveling abroad

“Once I scan it into a computer, I eliminate all the original color (and) only black is left.”

Next, the image is burned into a silk screen. He then he uses oil-based ink on rag paper for the silk screen image and then he hand colors it.

Ray assisted each student in pulling a wooden squeegee to press ink across the silk screen of “The Boat Man.”

“We’re going to show the students today how to print with their hands,” Ray said.

This is Ray’s third visit to Art on the Square held in downtown Belleville and his second visit to a metro-east school. Last year, he went to Gibault Catholic High School in Waterloo. The 15th annual art show runs Friday through Sunday.

Ray, 68, taught school after graduating from Northeastern Illinois University but he had not been in front of a classroom before Thursday for 37 years so he wasn’t sure if he could still handle that. But he comfortably addressed large classes of Freeburg students.

“I really like young people because they’re very motivated, they’re excited about doing things, but they don’t have common sense,” he said with a hearty laugh. “They missed the common sense part.”

“I try to educate them on different things and some other ideas, even my own kids are like that.”

He is the father of two sons and one daughter.

“I’ve been an artist all my life,” Ray said. “When I was a kid, I would draw on a regular basis.”

Ray, who travels to art shows across the country each year, will go to U.S. art shows from May to July. He spent the day working with art teacher Amanda Stuart’s classes.

“I think it’s really cool for the kids to be able to work with a real artist,” Stuart said. “They watch videos about them and they hear me talk about them but for them to get to work hands on with a professional artist I think is a really valuable learning tool.”

I think it’s really kind of amazing. It’s cool how it can be so personal.

Sophomore Brett Harris on Kenyatta Ray’s artwork

She also noted that her students hail from a “smaller town” in the suburbs and their cultural vision was broadened by meeting Ray, who has traveled to 47 countries.

“I’ve seen a lot of excitement today,” Stuart said.

Sophomore Brett Harris said he needed a little help from Ray to properly work the silk screen but was impressed with Ray’s craft.

“I think it’s really kind of amazing,” Harris said. “It’s cool how it can be so personal.”

Two of Stuart’s students have entries in the high school art competition that’s part of Art on the Square this weekend.

Addie Huston, a senior, has entered a color pencil “grid picture” of two “Star Wars” characters. Megan Haas, also a senior, has submitted a self-portrait that she painted with bright colors.

“I was so intrigued. I have never seen something like this done before,” Huston said of Ray’s technique. “It was incredible seeing him. He pulls it and in one second you’ve got a lifelike picture.”

Haas, who is headed to the University of Alabama, already has a plan for the silk screen she made in class Thursday: “I’m going to hang that in my dorm room,” she said.

Artist in Residency Program

Nine Art on the Square artists visited metro-east schools Thursday to talk about their craft:

  • Jill Banks: Arthur Middle School in O’Fallon
  • Chris Robleski: Mascoutah Middle School
  • Gregg Rasmussen: Triad High School in Troy
  • Marian Steen: Blessed Sacrament School in Belleville
  • Patrick Cassanova: High Mount School in Swansea
  • Obayana Anjanaku: Jefferson Elementary School in Belleville
  • Yoram Gal: Moye Elementary School in O’Fallon
  • Kenyatta Ray: Freeburg High School
  • Ronna Katz: Belle Valley School in Belleville
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