© 2021 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Hilliard Teen Secures National Art Award

In three days a Hilliard-Davidson High School senior will travel to Carnegie Hall to accept a national art award. WOSU reports, for Kyle Boganwright, art is more than a hobby, it's therapy for his mental illness.

18-year-old Kyle Boganwright could easily get lost in a crowd of today's teenagers - his jeans are a bit too long, his hair is cropped close on the sides with a spiky Mohawk down the center of his head. But Kyle is anything but ordinary; his artwork, often described as visionary, landed him a prestigious national award.

"I just was astounded. I just wasn't expecting the award at all," he said.

Kyle is one of five school-age students around the country to be awarded a Scholastic Gold Medal for a portfolio of work. The prize comes with a $10,000 scholarship.

The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards have been around since 1923. More than 140,000 students from seventh through twelfth grades entered this year. Kyle joins past winners like Truman Capote, Richard Avedon, Sylvia Plath and Andy Warhol.

Brian Doerries is the associate director of The Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, the non-profit that runs awards. He said judges look for work that is original and expresses a personal vision.

"Does this young person have something burning in him or her to say? And is that person saying it in a way that challenges our notions of how that can be said or expressed? And looking at Kyle's work there's an extreme boldness of vision," Doerries said.

"I'm pretty sure I drew as I learned to talk. Like, I've been drawing ever since I could pick up a pencil," Kyle said.

Kyle mostly works with pen and watercolor. In his words his art is "off the wall" and "kind of crazy." But at first glance, his work looks dark or even macabre with its surreal, skeletal-like creatures. One even clutches a knife. Kyle understands initial reactions. But he credits some of his works' themes to his life-long appeal with the fantasy and mystical genres. But there's more to Kyle's work than just good art - it helps him cope with his mental illness.

Kyle suffers from bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness. It's a biologically-based illness that causes severe shifts in a person's mood - much greater than life's typical ups and downs.

"I was officially diagnosed last year. But I was always in touch with the fact that there was something a bit off about me. Like I always had the ups and downs," he said.

Kyle's mom, Julie, said doctors have prescribed several medications since he was seven-years-old. But he's currently not taking any medications to help even out his moods. His mom said that's the way he wants it.

"I think he's doing fine without the medication. Now there are times when he might have more difficulty, we talk, we're close, so that in those times then I encourage him to talk to the people or counseling or whatever supportive things are available in his life," she said.

Doctor Kathy Burns is the medical director for Franklin County's Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board. Burns cautioned some people with bipolar disorder will not be able to manage their symptoms solely through art or talk therapy. She said the illness is unpredictable. But Burns agreed therapy can be helpful in stabilizing symptoms.

In Kyle's case art therapy has been helping. A painting titled "Venation for Madmen" is Kyle's darkest work to date. A large skeletal creature fills the center of the painting. Smaller figures surround it. Reds, oranges and yellows dominate the canvas. "It's just layer, upon layer, upon layer of simple shapes that make up - hell. You see hell in this picture. And somebody would think upon seeing that it is a very dark picture, even angry. But, when I got done with the picture it had helped me deal with a lot of my demons. And ultimately the most darkest picture I have turned out to be the most lightest; it turned out to be the most helpful to me," Kyle described. But there's a downside to Kyle's artistic abilities. In some cases, like "Venation for Madmen", his work proves cathartic; at other times Kyle said it provokes a manic episode where he can be consumed in a piece until three in the morning. He thinks his art and his bipolar disorder are related.

Nevertheless it is something Kyle has to deal with. And he does day in and day out. His art teacher Dan Gerdeman said it took him a while to get to know Kyle. Gerdeman said he has never let students move around the classroom when he's teaching, but he made an exception for Kyle. "He needs to move. And I understand that. And he appreciates that. You know the first time he did it I yelled at him," Gerdeman said.

But Kyle and his teacher, whom he calls "Gerdy", have grown to value each other. Gerdeman said he tells Kyle he will have be patient and toe the line at The Columbus College of Art and Design which awarded him a four-year scholarship. But Gerdeman is convinced in his student whom he calls a visionary.

"I like that he pushes the limits. You know I as a high school art teacher aspire for everyone of my kids be able to express themselves in their work. And Kyle's been able to do it much better than the thousands of kids I've taught. You know, maybe five kids in 15 years are able to express their vision like that," Gerdeman said.

Kyle heads to New York City this week to accept his award at Carnegie Hall. And his work will also be displayed in a professional gallery in New York for the remainder of the month.

When asked, what's next? What are his goals?

"Right now, art to me is just kind of therapy. If I can make it into something that's great. But it's always going to be therapy first. If it's possible in my life what I want to do is to have psychological disorders better understood, if there's any way I could conceivably do that. (And through your art you may be able to do that.) Quite possibly," Kyle responded.