Above: National YoungArts Week 2019 Yashua Klos working with students. Photo by ©Gesi Schilling.
One of the most exciting exhibits in Miami is the work of National YoungArts Winners in Design, Photography, and Visual Arts. The young people exhibiting are just a few of the thousands that applied for the prestigious opportunity. The selected students not only receive chances to show their work and win money, but they also work with extraordinary established artists to glean a lifetime of working knowledge that is priceless. This year, winning students work with renowned contemporary artist Yashua Klos. A colleague of Derrick Adams, Yashua Klos, is known for incredibly large scale works. I spoke to him about his experience working with National YoungArts Foundation and the student’s work that is on view until February 7.
Melissa: Tell me how you became one of the mentors for National Young Arts Week.
Yashua: I first got into the fold with National Young Arts Foundation (YoungArts) when I was invited to do a masterclass here in New York for Young Arts New York. I think my name was in the hat—as a matter of fact, I’m certain my name was in the hat for that—because of a colleague in the arts, Derrick Adams, who was a mentor at YoungArts.
The masterclass went great. I just really liked the position that the kids were in, and I was proud of them, and they dug what I was doing in the masterclass. Then, I was invited to join on in a more involved role as a juror to come back again for the regional program in New York.
Melissa: Once your role expanded, what were your thoughts about working with the young contemporary artists?
Yashua: Well, I love this age group. I teach pre-college at Parsons, so I teach high schoolers who are building portfolios in order to apply to art programs. I’m familiar with the age group because they’re really interested in improving and challenging themselves, and they’re also really socially and politically interested. They’re really perking up as to everything that’s going on in the world and what it is going to mean for them as they come of age.
It’s a prime opportunity for them at that age to really start making work that considers the way that they want to identify themselves in a very complicated world. I dig the age group because of that challenge involved and just how excited they are to start learning about themselves through their art making.
Melissa: What are you giving these young contemporary artists that they will need to succeed at Parsons or any other really great design or art program?
Yashua: That’s a good question. I feel that what I’m doing at Parsons or at YoungArts is—I think the most important thing really—is to validate their voice. Let them know that with the questions that they’re starting to raise about their place in the world, that they should explore those questions as loud as they can. Just validating that voice of questioning and of representing and standing up for what they believe and who they are.
I think that this is just showing them that the arts is a great space for them to raise questions and make mistakes so they don’t have to have answers… but the arts is a great space for them to express concern and be okay with what has been called failure, which is really just research and study. The best I can do for them, really, is give them that platform. Make them feel more secure in the questions that they’re starting to ask through the arts.
Melissa: There may be some students who either did not know about YoungArts – like you and I when we were that age – or didn’t quite make it to the top, didn’t get a chance to apply or didn’t make it into YoungArts at all. What advice would you give them as they prepare for advanced studies in contemporary art?
Yashua: There are other opportunities for them. Obviously, stay on the lookout for any kind of opportunity that’s going to put you in a creative community. I really think for me, again at that age, I didn’t know about YoungArts, but the thing I would have valued the most about it is being accepted and embraced in a creative community so that I could see other people like me, other kids like me who had the same vision or the same way of seeing things. Just to reinforce that I wasn’t the only one out there. And to have that supportive community. Any opportunities that kids can find to broaden that community, I think, is really a good idea. YoungArts is one of the best for sure, but it’s not the only one.
Melissa: I would love to know if you have anything coming up next that we should look out for, any collaborations.
Yashua: Right now I’m in my studio a lot, and I’m working pretty hard. I have a solo—my first solo museum show—coming up next year, 2021 and that’s at-the Wellin Museum in Clinton, New York. I’m really hard at work on that. That’s pretty much the focus.
This past week in Miami was a nice little break. It was the quiet before the storm, if you will. Now it is going to be a narrow focus on making that show happen.
Teaching and being with students is really a way for me to step out of my own head, and to really be valuable to somebody else, and be accountable to somebody else, so that when I do come back to my studio after National Young Arts Week, I have a fresh palette. I’m refreshed. I’m energized by the students. I’m inspired by them, and then I can get in here and go into my whirlwind.
Melissa: Are there any past students out there now who are maybe, making a great name for themselves in the art world that you mentored or is there a student that we should pay attention to in the future?
Yashua: Thinking of YoungArts alumni, there’s David Antonio Cruz, who we invited for a master class here at the regional program in New York last year, and he’s doing amazing things now. He was just in a show at the Brooklyn Museum and had a show at Monique Meloche in Chicago. He’s doing his thing, and he’s been great about staying. We’ve got him back in the loop with YoungArts. He’s been great with that.
We do have one artist actually, Daniel Narvaez, who was a Young Arts Winner in Visual Arts last year, and I see him every now and then. He was a winner in 2019, when he participated in National Young Arts Week and Young Arts New York. He is currently a student at Parsons.
Melissa: Is there a theme that you saw with the 2020 YoungArts Winners that you find to be interesting?
Yashua: I don’t think we can nail it down that specifically to a theme. Of course, we do have a lot of students who are dealing with, what I would say is identity work. I think all artwork is identity-based. They’re dealing —some as people of color or queer students—with their place in the world, challenging boundaries and restrictions or different limitations that they find they’re up against.
We did see that in the work, but we look at so much work and we have such a diverse pool of applicants that it’s really hard to pin it down to one thing, honestly, because they’re all doing such different stuff.