November 13, 2023

Scottsdale Arts and one•n•ten Collaborate with Artist to Help LGBTQIA+ Young People Find ‘the Real Me’

Artist Jackson Kloog taught portraiture and bookmaking workshops for young people from one•n•ten to create the artwork now found in the Breaking the Binary exhibition at Scottsdale Arts’ ArtReach Space. Photo submitted by Jackson Kloog.

The real me is fluid and free. Expressive and kind. It feels like lying in the cool grass, basking in the sunlight, drinking an ice-cold cola. 

I write about my journey of self-discovery and self-love.

This might not be a typical artwork label, but it perfectly illustrates what the exhibition Breaking the Binary is all about. It’s the label for a 2023 pen and marker artwork called My Self-Discovery Journey by a young artist named Leo Y.

This is how young artist Leo Y. described “the real me” when asked what queerness means to them during a collaborative art experience with Scottsdale Arts Learning & Innovation and one•n•ten—a nonprofit dedicated to serving and assisting LGBTQIA+ youth and young adults. Leo’s answer now accompanies a 2023 pen-and-marker artwork by the artist called My Self-Discovery Journey, currently on view through April 15 with the Breaking the Binary exhibition in the ArtReach Space, a hallway gallery located inside Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

Eri, he/him, b. 2008. The Mirror, 2023. Gel pen, stamps, ink. — I think my real self is somewhat out of reach; most of the time I wouldn’t be able to describe “the real me” other than saying the truest version of myself, whom I do not yet fully know. — My artwork is a person (myself) looking in a handheld mirror and asking if the person he sees in the reflection is truly him, unable to fully discern what is and isn’t the true him.

Prior to the exhibition, Scottsdale Arts Learning & Innovation partnered with one•n•ten at the organization’s Camp OUTdoors retreat in Prescott, Arizona, to offer art workshops centered around promoting empathy and understanding during a time of queer identity exploration. It was the perfect pairing because art can be a valuable method for exploring fluidity and self-identity.

“Our partnership with one•n•ten has blossomed so beautifully over the past year and a half,” says Brittany Arnold, community engagement manager for Scottsdale Arts Learning & Innovation. “one•n•ten has always had such an honorable reputation in the community as a powerful resource for LGBTQIA+ youth and young adults.”

Scottsdale Arts’ first partnership initiative with one•n•ten began as an outreach program called QueerStory of Art, which brought Arizona-based queer artists to educate about their practice and the queer historical figures they look up to. Students learned about different art forms, such as storytelling, theatre, and both two-dimensional and three-dimensional fine art. The program concluded with a special showcase of the students’ talents.

“There were many happy tears shed and beautiful memories shared; it was a moment I won’t ever forget,” Arnold says. “We then continued this type of outreach to one•n•ten’s Camp OUTdoors summer retreat, where I had the pleasure of partnering with Jackson Kloog as the teaching artist.”

At Camp OUTdoors, Kloog (they/them) instructed one•n•ten campers about portraiture and bookmaking through the lens of queer identity. The campers created new artworks that envision what they identify as “the real me” through surrealistic self-portraits and explored what being queer means to them using miniature magazines, known as zines. The result is an exhibition of young artists bravely telling their stories and sharing their journeys toward self-love and authenticity.

Artwork by Jackson Kloog

Kloog says both the portraiture and bookmaking workshops were designed to help the campers freely express themselves. Kloog used examples of their own work to get the young artists started, explaining that the object of both art forms was about expressing themselves, not perfection in practice. It was meant to be fun and a way to “let it all out.”

“A lot of them really did do that,” Kloog says. “It was pretty amazing to see what they did in such a short amount of time. A lot of the portraits and zines will bring tears to your eyes. It’s pretty touching really.”

Before this project, Kloog, who lives in Surprise, Arizona, had not worked with one•n•ten. However, Kloog says they wish they had had an opportunity to be involved with a similar organization when they were younger. While closeted as a young person, Kloog often felt unsafe and dealt with a lot of anxiety.

“It would have helped me overall in my life, being able to be in a safe place with that,” they say. “To fully be yourself and express yourself, it helps kids a lot. I didn’t get that as a kid.”

Kloog has been interested in art since they were quite young. They remember getting in trouble for drawing all over the furniture and walls.

Artwork by Jackson Kloog

Through the years, their artist practice became a bit more refined, leading them to a bachelor of fine arts in illustration and a minor in book arts and printmaking from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia in 2016. As opposed to writing a novel, book art is more like treating a book as a sculpture, a three-dimensional artwork.

In Kloog’s artistic practice, book art typically takes the form of making zines, which includes folding paper in a particular way to create miniature books. However, their focus is more on drawing and painting, working primarily with watercolor and acrylic.

Their work is often bright and colorful, exploring a variety of subject matters, from the desert flora and fauna to portraiture.

“I do like to express my queerness through my art, sometimes in a direct way but often in an indirect manner, often through surrealism,” they say. “If I do portraits, I like to mess with proportions of facial features and things like that. I like to think of it as how humans are not perfect.”

Kloog says this is grounded in a belief that portraying the reality of people goes beyond general appearance.

Sani, they/them, b. 2008. Self Portrait, 2023. Pen, marker. —
The real me is when I am being open about who I am and what I enjoy. — My artwork reflects that by showing who I am now alongside who I want to be.

The artist became involved with the Scottsdale Arts/one•n•ten collaboration after Brittany Arnold discovered their work during an exhibition at the FOUND:RE Phoenix Hotel. She felt the young people from one•n•ten would be drawn to Kloog’s expressive work and bright colors.

“These workshops were such a success because approaching things through a surrealistic lens made it easier for the young people to find parts of their identity that they are proud of, no matter how outlandish it might be to the masses,” Arnold says. “Jackson was so great at incorporating their personal story into their teachings and was an inspiration for the young artists to take the same leap with exploring their queer identities.”

Arnold says the exhibition is the result of the young artists’ bravery and how they told their stories through the artistic workshops at Camp OUTdoors. A clear theme quickly developed among many of the works they created: a need for fluidity. Many expressed an ever-evolving struggle to find comfort and acceptance in their skin, no matter what society thinks of it. Arnold says the experience opened her eyes to the daily triumphs and resilience of LGBTQUIA+ people.

“I am honored to share their stories in the hopes of a common understanding in Scottsdale,” she says.

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