Sixteen-year-old Christian Harris says knew he wanted to become an artist since he was 4 years old.
He did one of his early works in seventh grade for Hispanic Heritage Month. The medium was a concrete wall that was spray-painted gold and carved into a symbol that was supposed to be “ancient” but he says resembled more of an “alien text.”
Harris, who is finishing his junior year at Miami Jackson Senior High School, has been honing his craft, painting portraits of rappers A$AP Rocky and Kendrick Lamar.
He and 20 other teens displayed their artwork Friday at a gallery in Liberty City’s African Heritage Cultural Arts Center. They graduated from an internship program that launched this year.
Students from nine South Florida high schools took classes with Addonis Parker, a local artist whose studio is also based in Liberty City. Parker selected 21 teens from the pool of 50 applicants, but not based on their talent.
“It was personality,” he says. “It was the energy, and how can I help and how they viewed the world. That’s how they were selected.”
Throughout the internship, the students learned what it means to be a professional artist. Parker took them to museums and had them meet his colleagues who are active in the art world.
“I got to… make a little bit of connections here and there,” Harris says.
Harris added that working with Parker, who students call “Mr. Addonis,” is itself an experience. Parker had the students tap into all their creative energies: painting, writing and acting to name a few.
“Working with Mr. Addonis, it’s a lot. He’s a character,” Harris says. “He can do anything.”
In July, works by the interns will be displayed alongside a mural by Parker on the facade of OneUnited Bank, the largest black-owned bank in the country, at its Liberty City branch.
The internship was developed in tandem with Parker’s work for the OneUnited Mural Project. The bank partnered with the Miami Children’s Initiative, which serves Liberty City youth as old as 24 by offering educational and career-related opportunities.
Vianny Guillen, 14, attends the Academy of Arts and Minds Charter High School in Coconut Grove. She displayed three pieces at Friday’s exhibition: one on female body image, a portrait of Jimi Hendrix and a painting representing her personal journey in the program.
Since the program's end, Harris has interviewed for a potential internship in a Wynwood studio. If that doesn’t work out, then he will volunteer at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center where his art was displayed on Friday.
Guillen will continue studying French and improving her skills as a classical artist. She says she grew more confident as an artist as a result of working with Parker.
“This is one of the best things that ever happened to me as an artist because I haven’t gotten the opportunity to showcase my work, and this is the first time,” she says.