Pali Students Win Big in Congressional Art Competition


Ethan Azari’s “The Persistence of Love”

Dohyun(Andy) Ju, Editor-in-Chief of Special Assignments

At the seventh annual 33rd District Congressional Art Competition, Pali juniors Ethan Azari and Tierney Smith won first and third place, respectively. Azari’s piece titled “The Persistence of Love” earned him $2,000 as well as a place in the United States Capitol building. Smith took home $500, and her work titled “The Other Side” now hangs in the office of state Congressman Ted Lieu. 

Their artwork will remain on display for the rest of 2021, and Azari plans to travel to Washington D.C. in the summer to view his work in the Congressional Art Competition exhibit. 

Students from 21 local schools submitted 154 pieces of artwork to this year’s competition, according to a press release from Lieu’s office. These works included photographs, paintings, drawings, mixed-media pieces and computer-generated art. 

Azari said that he sought to portray the scene of a woman waiting for her husband while holding a cigarette, an image he says was popular during the ’80s and ’90s. He chose oil paint as his medium. 

“All my paintings are oil paintings on canvas,” Azari said. “I think oil painting gives [my work] a realistic look and helps it pop with all of the bright colors.”

Currently, he is taking AP Studio Art 2D with Pali teacher Catherine Villagran, who encouraged him to enter the competition. He said that he welcomes the opportunity to participate in all art competitions that offer recognition and monetary prizes. His ultimate goal is to receive merit scholarships and enhance his chances of getting into the University of Southern California.

Smith said she draws inspiration from the work of filmmaker and photographer Tyler Mitchell. Like Azari, she entered the competition because of a teacher at Pali. 

“My photography teacher, Rick Steil, wanted us to produce pictures influenced by our favorite photographer,” Smith said. “I have always loved Mitchell’s concepts and execution in his fashion photography.”

Smith is taking the Advanced Photography course at Pali and is planning on taking AP Photography next year. She is also a co-producer of the school’s yearbook, a leadership position she plans to keep until she graduates. 

Although the photo itself took less than a second to take, Smith said that she spent the majority of the time “adjusting the colors and light to find the right tone.” Through the image of her sister Shaelyn Smith, a senior at Pali, Tierney said she sought to portray “the concept of someone crawling through a window while it is unclear [to the viewer] whether they are going in or going out.” 

Smith and Azari were both forced to adapt to the obstacles being thrown at them as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a fashion photographer, Smith said that the restrictions have changed her original process of creating meaningful images. 

“I enjoy using human subjects in my photos and since the pandemic won’t let me reach out to any other models, I sometimes feel like I’m forcing my siblings to model for me,” she said. 

Tierney Smith’s “The Other Side”

In contrast, Azari views the pandemic as a catalyst for his artistic development. 

“If it wasn’t for COVID, none of this would have happened,” Azari said. “I think COVID allowed me to have a lot of time to sit down and explore.” 

He said that this exploration and freedom differed from previous classes and caused him to find his unique artistic process and style. 

Azari and Smith agree that their success in the competition has inspired them to invest more time in their art. “[The competition] was a way bigger deal than I thought it was,” Azari said. “It didn’t really hit me at first until everybody helped me understand what I had achieved.” 

Because of the recognition she received from her submission, Smith aims to use her talents to bring light to societal issues. For example, Smith said that she recently took a series of photos of her immigrant grandparents, who came from Hong Kong, in order to make a statement about “Asian Hate and the roots that Asian Americans have in [this country].” 

Both artists are planning on pursuing art in college and beyond. In regards to competitions and her future, Smith said: “Even if everyone hated my photography, I’d still want to pursue it, but this competition has definitely added to the notion that my ambitions are legitimate, valid and worthy of support.”