What do Stephen King, Sylvia Plath and Lena Dunham all have in common? As students they were all chosen by the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers for its Scholastic Art and Writing Award.
Just like Maya Dixon.
Out of more than 346,000 works of art and writing submitted for the award, Dixon joined just 15 others as gold medal portfolio winners. In addition to the gold medal, the Ethical Culture Fieldston School senior also received a $10,000 scholarship from the alliance for her “Essence of Soul” collection, which included illustrative paintings exploring the spirit of the Bronx community.
“A lot of my art is about what I am used to and what I am around at school and that contrast,” Dixon said. “I mean, I try to represent people that look like me or are around me. Representation is important to me because there was this woman that was like ‘wow, this is so cool, I can really relate to this,’ because she saw the 5 train in my piece.”
Artists like Njideka Crosby, Kerry James Marshall and Toyin Ojih Odutola also inspire her to include persons of color at the forefront of her art.
Growing up in Pelham, Dixon identifies with her father’s Liberian side of the family more, although her mother is a native of Mauritius Island in the Indian Ocean. Throughout her life her father has encouraged Dixon to see the value in her community and support where she comes from.
“My dad always insists that I go to the local hair braiding place instead of the gentrified parts of Harlem to get my hair done,” Dixon said. “He always emphasizes supporting local Bronx people.”
In one of Dixon’s paintings, “Catch The Flava,” she drew a vendor and his icy cart, someone more commonly known to Bronx children as the “coco man.”
“It’s a simple painting, but it highlights an experience I always had when my bus driver would let us get off the bus and would let us buy from him,” Dixon said. “I feel like you can’t live in the Bronx and not see that.”
Dixon also touched on simple Bronx style and local uptown transit through her painting “The Boogie Down.” She drew a girl with gold bamboo earrings riding on what can easily be indentified as the 2 or 5 train.
Part of Dixon’s process includes listening to old music, trying to find the balance between her message and the art itself. This is her first time painting an illustrative style, and using that mode has allowed her to work in more of a freer form.
Dixon enjoys using the gouache paint in her art because of its chalk feel and matte finish. This mode allows Dixon to pull away from the idea of perfection, and as a result, finds her work to be more expressive and gratifying. Like all artists, Dixon’s style has evolved over the years.
“In the beginning I was making art that I thought people wanted to see, and I was making very technical portraits that were really nicely rendered and focused on the technical aspect rather than the message behind it,” Dixon said. “It can be hard to think about the message compared to how well you do something. And the more I let go of that idea, the more success I found.”
Dixon has submitted to the alliance contest every year since the seventh grade, but she never received national recognition for her work until this year. As a gold medal portfolio recipient, Dixon’s work will be displayed in the Art Write Now 2018 National Exhibition on June 7 at Carnegie Hall. She’ll also participate in a week-long celebration in her honor.
Dixon plans to attend the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art after she finishes high school.
“It’s an art school so I’m excited,” the 17-year-old said. “I plan to be an artist or a creative director for musicians, or a curator for a museum. As along as I can still make art and make money.”