Top in New Zealand 2021 (Cambridge A Level Art)

Last Updated on February 24, 2022

This article features an A2 Coursework project by Amanda Zheng, completed for Cambridge A Level Art and Design (9479), at ACG Parnell College. Amanda achieved 95% for this project (92% overall) and was awarded Top in New Zealand (High Achievement) for A Level Art. Amanda writes about the project in her own words below.

My A2 Coursework exhibits a wide range of media, deep explorations into historical artists, hyper-realistic creations and a voice throughout that is unique in exploring the metaphorical meanings as well as challenges of my works. I would like to give hope to students, as my AS mark was unfortunately not as high as I hoped for. This only made my A2 Coursework all the more difficult, as I had to gain significantly more discipline and push myself outside of my comfort zone in order to reach my goal.

For my A2 Art and Design Coursework in my senior year, I chose to create work around the theme of Spirituality. In searching to regain my spirits after the unprecedented year of 2020, I hoped researching this topic would lead me to a path of mindfulness. When creating my works, I questioned what kind of impact I could leave on my viewer and focused on bringing them along the journey with me. This forced me to deepen my use of media, explore the transition from 2D to 3D, utilise symbolism, and harness styles from different influential artists. The artworks became reflective of my transformation out of a desolate state into an abundant mindset and I created some of my most personal works.

As I delved into the topic of Spirituality, I was fascinated by the abstract subject of the human aura and wanted to interpret it in my own way.

color pencil aura drawing
“Layers of Ourselves” is a colored pencil drawing illustrating the human aura.

I utilized the motif of double vision to connect to clairvoyance, associated with the third eye. The layered style symbolizes the multicolors of the human aura and also parallels the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual experiences humans interact with in life.

human aura photography
To further experiment with auras, I did a photoshoot of my classmates, inspired by photographer Susan Hiller, as I was fascinated by making the invisible visible.

These photographs were produced by projecting an array of multicolor images onto my subjects. Similar to Hiller, I contextualized the idea of using auras as a painting device. Through these photos, I aimed to capture the subjects’ psychic and metaphysical emanations through the hues, brightness, and strength of their aura, ultimately, revealing their vital energies.

aura painting
Experimentation with spray paint as a part of my aura work.

It was important for me to portray the effects of inner enlightenment and how this feeling could permeate into our outer world, touching others, and interacting with their lives. I focused on the subtle energies that underly our physical reality and forms everything around us. We operate as beings on vibrational frequencies that determine the vitality of our auras. A soul that vibrates on the levels of love and enlightenment becomes a magnetic attractor within itself, conveying the message that we attract what we are.

A Level Art prep sheet
My seventh preparatory sheet, exploring work inspired by historical artist Marcel Duchamp, and photographer Susan Hiller.
Cambridge A Level Art
“Momento Mori” – a series of still life oil paintings inspired by Pieter Claesz.

These works depict a collection of exotic objects that together embody the elements and rituals of spirituality. These paintings are my interpretation of an allegorical still life of a metaphysical setting. Each item is united by its purpose to soothe and give peace to the human soul. I wanted to include a natural element (the white rose and overgrown leaves) to connect to the brief mortality of life. These compositions are essentially a sanctuary of items that I find evoke peace, healing, and a celebration of these small ritualistic acts.

brain flowers sculpture
“Growth & Decay” is a sculpture work combined with real-life greenery along with an observational painting and mixed media work.

In the above work, I deepened my use of media by experimenting with sculpture for the first time. Nature is hugely symbolic within spirituality and its brief cycle of existence ties to the phrase ‘Momento Mori’. I wanted to convey the thriving internal impact when we are fulfilled spiritually, hence the luscious full plants growing out of my brain sculpture.

On the other hand, when we feed our minds with hopelessness, dysphoria, and lack of purpose it creates a negative paradigm infested with distressful narratives. In the following artwork, I used the same plants, but they had decayed weeks later, representing the metaphorical breakdown of the human mind.

sculpture with decayed flowers
“Decay” works within my series “Growth & Decay”. The mixed media artwork on the right was created by printing my work onto glossy photo paper and further reworking over the photograph with acrylic paint and texture medium to enhance the disheveled nature of the decaying process.
cyanotype printing process
For this diptych series, I experimented with cyanotype which was an entirely new use of media for me. Throughout the process, I printed versions of my digital plan onto acetate sheets. I laid these sheets over the top of specially treated cyanotype fabric, where it was exposed under direct sunlight or UV lamp. The acetate allowed for depths of shadows and highlights to form, and I rinsed it under water where it created a deep blue image.

It was important for me to explore the experiences of spiritual enlightenment, leading to the series “Harmony & Transcendence”. The subject of spiritual enlightenment illustrates the evolvement into our higher selves as we gain a level of consciousness on an etheric level. The first piece ‘Harmony’ represents how the closer we are to the natural world the more grounded and less inward focused we become. Ultimately, we start to recognise a form that is larger than our individual selves. Within my second piece ‘Transcendence’ I was inspired by the process of transformation, through experiencing spiritual enlightenment myself. This form of transformation was conveyed through the interchanging phases of the moon as well as the gilded golden butterflies to tie into the subject of metamorphosis. Gilding was a technique inspired by artists Henri Matisse and Emma Bass.

artist analysis
I interviewed Emma Bass to gain first-hand research and valuable insights into her intentions and style. This was part of the written analysis accompanying my submission, part of which is shown above.
flower arrangement
Photographs of flowers and crystal combinations inspired by Emma Bass’ “Floral constructs” collection. These became important references within my cyanotype works and reinforced my reoccurring use of floral imagery.
mixed media collage
“Grandfather” is my final artwork within my A2 Coursework celebrating my grandfather’s spirituality.

During the planning of my final piece, my initial composition surrounding my grandfather was cluttered and I had not yet solidified a meaningful message to accompany the piece. In seeing this, my teacher Mrs. Mariee Guinibert (who manages the ACG Parnell College Art & Design Instagram account) pushed me to develop a composition with greater depth and experimentation. She suggested I look at the works of artists such as Pablo Thecuadro and Marcelo Monreal. Their fragmented compositional style inspired me to connect it to the duality of my grandpa’s life: his surface-level exterior and his deep spiritual interior. With no hesitation, I avidly took on the advice, as I see constructive criticism as the single most important building block for continuous improvement. With my teacher’s emphasis upon experimentation in mind, I created eight unique digital compositions. Instead of being confined to a subject and a plain background, I began to work with compositions I had never done before, and slowly began experimenting with a puzzle piece layout. I was aware of my limited use of media in my 2020 coursework, so for my final in 2021, I decided to create a 3D pop-up artwork with foam board that strongly complimented the multiple layers of my final composition.

My grandfather’s journey through spirituality and Buddhism has deepened throughout his whole life. He inspires me with his unrelenting faith every day and he embodies all that I wanted to capture; love, hope, trust, gratitude, and awe. The centrality of spirituality within a person makes them uniquely whole and builds the framework for a life with integral meaning and devoted relationships. Spirituality is the supremacy of insight over logic, which allows one to experience revelations of the deepest truths.

A Level Art portfolio
My entire A2 Coursework (14 x A2 size boards).
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