Peering into portals

Alumni look back and reflect on painting the “Portals” 2018 art mural
Varun Iyengar from the Class of 2017 painted a window into a marine ecosystem to add more creativity and
liveliness into Jefferson’s atmosphere. “Art helped me imagine alternative futures, escape into my head and spend time in nicer places. I was hoping to give people something nice to look at, maybe make their days a little better,” Iyengar said.
Varun Iyengar from the Class of 2017 painted a window into a marine ecosystem to add more creativity and liveliness into Jefferson’s atmosphere. “Art helped me imagine alternative futures, escape into my head and spend time in nicer places. I was hoping to give people something nice to look at, maybe make their days a little better,” Iyengar said.
Hannah Liu

Lurking through the cracked walls, a dragon eye. 

Turn right and you’ll see a window into the ocean: a school of fish encircle coral reefs behind the tracks of a blue whale. 

Further along, a familiar character opens the door into Alice in Wonderland, where a luscious, blooming garden and whimsical adventure await. 

These are the portals of art murals that climb across the stairwell by Student Services, inviting you to  enter the worlds of the passions, imaginations and remnants of students from five years in the past. 

In the early spring of 2018, students in the art department were invited by the principal at the time, Dr. Glaser, to paint an art mural in the Student Services stairwell. Upon hearing this, the students in the Art Honor Society, most of whom were enrolled in AP Studio Art and Art II, took the initiative to make the installation more personal. Rather than painting one large mural, the students decided to paint individual murals to showcase their own interests. Ultimately, they landed on the theme of “Portals.”

“‘Portals’ was the concept of a window or door that you can look into or out and imagine a new space and time,” art instructor at the time, Tim Davis, said. “The process was before the new renovation was over and all the art students wanted to see more color and really paint a mural everywhere.”

Davis served as the supervisor to oversee the next eight months of sketching drafts, taping dimensions and critiquing techniques. While he offered suggestions and pointers to students, he gave room for lots of creative freedom among the student artists, allowing them to interpret “Portals” however they wanted to. Varun Iyengar from the Class of 2017 painted a window into an ocean ecosystem, creating a view into his interest and wonder for marine life. 

“I’ve always loved scenes of undersea life and thought it would be cool to imagine a window to an underwater world in the stairwell. I’ve always enjoyed painting with blues, and as you can see, the mural is basically all shades of blue,” Iyengar said. “I find the shapes and forms of undersea structures really whimsical and beautiful, like coral reefs and rock formations with all the sea life growing on them.”

Other artists, such as Timothy Palamarchuk from the Class of 2021, had a more literal interpretation of the theme. Palamarchuk recreated a key element from his favorite video game, coincidentally named Portal. 

“In this puzzle game, you have this device that lets you shoot two portals at certain surfaces. Once both portals are placed, they act almost like a human-sized wormhole, so you can go in one and out the other,” Palamarchuk said. “The actual game is a puzzle game with a very well-crafted story, charming characters and expansive lore, so it became my favorite game. I knew instantly that this was what I wanted to paint for the mural, and I think that anyone who understands the reference would appreciate it.

[Portal] is a puzzle game with a very well-crafted story, charming characters and expansive lore, so it became my favorite game. I knew instantly that this was what I wanted to paint for the mural.”

— Timothy Palamarchuk, Class of 2021

Many of the students were also second-semester seniors. Nearing the end of their high school career, the seniors took their time painting as a time of reflection, leaving a mark of art and beauty behind before entering a new stage in life. 

“[Jefferson] was pretty tough for me and many of my friends, and we’d been through a lot over those three and a half years, including renovations and so many other changes. It was really fun to have this time to be creative and hang out with my close friends during our senior year after we’d finally ‘made it’ through TJ,” Iyengar said. “The time we spent on these murals was really beautiful. It was a chance to relax, do things at our own pace, and dream about our pasts and our futures.”

Brenna Courtney from the Class of 2019, who painted an open refrigerator with her favorite snacks, hopes that other students can walk in the hallway and experience a sense of reflection while viewing the murals.

“It’d be cool if current students, walking through that stairwell, started thinking about their own doors and what they would illustrate at this point in their life,” Courtney said. 

Above all, many of them wanted to bring a sense of creativity and escape into the atmosphere, even if it meant just a few seconds while passing through the stairwell. 

“It was really easy to get stuck in my head at [Jefferson]. Worrying about my grades, all the work I had to do for classes and clubs, getting into college, all of that,” Iyengar said. “I wanted students to see something that might interrupt that constant stream of thoughts and worries. Maybe help them think about something different for a bit while they walk through the stairs. Admire the beautiful things their peers have made, and think about how the art makes them feel.”

From the May 2024 Issue of tjTODAY

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