Telling Stories Through Portraiture

“Each person to me is a piece of artwork,” said Joanna Kleszczewski ’18. “People are just really special. I wanted to portray that with these paintings.” 

The seeds of Joanna’s ISP were sewn last summer when, with help from the Kilbourne Summer Enrichment Fund, she attended a three-week art program in Putney, Vermont, where she completed intensive courses in both painting and drawing.

“I learned a lot there,” Joanna said, “but my favorite part was probably the last three days, when we were allowed to do a project of our own design. I decided to draw as many portraits of my classmates as I could in that time, using only charcoal. People really enjoyed my work—there were 32 portraits in all—and everyone had so much fun identifying who was who. Of course I did not want to give up that momentum.”

But Joanna was already scheduled to take six academic courses in the fall, leaving no room in her day for an art class. The ISP option allowed her to continue creating art—and to continue telling stories through portraiture.

“Portraits are fascinating to me. They really do tell stories, and I think it is important for those stories to be heard,” said Joanna. “I want to paint very special, very diverse subjects, and to learn and share their stories.”

Joanna paints primarily from photographs. Her early ISP pieces include a Native American woman, whose photograph she found in a news story about the Dakota Access Pipeline, a paralympian, transgender actor Laverne Cox, and a young woman connected to an organization that advocates for LGBTQ+ Muslims. 

“I wanted to paint diverse subjects using a wide variety of mediums,” Joanna explained. “I wanted to do acrylic paintings, and wash, and oil, and charcoal. I started with a charcoal piece, which was really a continuation of my work from the summer, and then moved on to acrylic. In the last few months I started working with copics, and I realized that I have a stronger affinity toward them. That is also when I started creating portraits of my friends. These are my favorite pieces, because they celebrate the people who have made my Taft experience special. And they are all diverse, with important stories of their own that I am able to share.”

In the fall, Joanna will return to a more formal study of art: she will be taking AP Studio Art at Taft. Still, the value of her ISP remains immeasurable.

 “ISP is an opportunity to really be in charge of your own learning—your own coursework. It does not count for credit and you do not get a grade, so some things that people typically think of as motivators are not there. You must be assertive with yourself, while relying on self-motivation and self-discipline; in the end, it is really all about your passion.”