"Mantis" by Olivia Chilelli

CLASS OF 2021: Senior Olivia Chilelli is Country Day’s art prodigy winning congressional art competition

From sketching anime-style drawings in the third grade to selling her award-winning gouache painting for $250, senior Olivia Chilelli is Country Day’s art prodigy as she continues to pursue her artistic dreams. 

Chilelli first took art seriously when she was 10 after watching her friend bring TV characters to life, but as the years changed, so did her style and capabilities. 

She said being picked for school projects as the designated artist cemented her future as she continued to practice,  progress and perfect her craft.

Chilelli used to draw cartoon-like illustrations in the third grade, but now she creates realistic portraits in both gouache, watercolor and acrylic.  

Chilelli said her art game was taken to the next level when she came to Country Day in the 10th grade.

“Once I went into (art teacher Andy) Cunningham’s class, it all kind of changed because suddenly I had all this watercolor paper, all these acrylics — everything at my disposal. I could actually start making the art I really wanted to,” she said.

Chilelli said Cunningham has been a big factor in her art progress because “he knows what to say at the right time.”

“What I really like about his teaching style is that he doesn’t really have actual classes. He just kind of sits back and lets you do what you need to do,” she said. “I love him because he’s always encouraged me to really step out of the box with my art, really worked me out of my shell and pushed me to where I wanted to be as an artist.”

Cunningham said Chilelli has been a leader to her peers from day one. She’s never really needed him and has only helped her a handful of times with little questions.

“It was obvious she already came with direction and that she had spent many years prior already perfecting her craft,” Cunningham said.

Chilelli’s most obvious quality that he’s seen her improve on is the boldness in the way she carries herself and artwork, Cunningham said.

“She’s never in your face about her work or how good she is, but rather just lets her art speak for itself,” he said.

“She is thoughtful, considerate, smart and an extremely hard worker. She regularly tackles large and pertinent social issues in her work like Artists of Color, this year’s chalk mural theme.” 

Cunningham said his favorite memory of Chilelli was at a music festival, where she drew an illustration on a canvas that was bigger than she is in under five minutes. 

“She practiced a couple of times before, but she just has raw talent,” he said. “She was able to completely tune out the crowd and draw under extreme pressure in front of hundreds of people, which is incredible.”

Cunningham said he will miss seeing her art next year. 

“Her art and the process she goes through is a huge part of her leadership in my class,” he said. “From it, kids get to see what it takes to become that good, and it’s truly great to just see the pieces she creates.”

Although it’s just the beginning, Chilelli already has started building her resume of artistic accomplishments.

Chilelli’s second favorite piece, named Cow-ifornia Dreaming, sold for $250, the highest amount she has received for one of her artworks.

Her piece named “Scrutiny” ranks as her favorite as it won the Congressional Art Competition Award.

This wasn’t her first time she’s sold her art, as she was paid $20 in middle school for doing various pieces.

As art has done for so many, Chilleli has found the ability to represent herself through what she puts on a canvas.

“I really like it because I’m extremely shy,” she said.“It gives me an outlet to put something out there that’s been stuck in my head that I’m too shy to communicate with other people about. And when I show them, they get the concept and what I’m trying to express,” she said.

Contrary to all the benefits art provides, it can be tasking at times. The worst part about art is making a mistake and having to redo your whole project, Chilelli said.

She said she won’t continue art as a professional career, and is applying to become a biology and pre-med major, but will still hold on to the skills she’s claimed to cope with the big changes college life comes with. 

Art in the future will be more for her community and the people around her rather than for herself and for money.

“My main goal in college is helping my community, and I really want to do a mural,” she said.

 “I think that’s my favorite part about doing art, is getting to reach out to people, interacting and inspiring them.”

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— By Jacob Chand

Originally published in the Dec. 15 edition of the Octagon.

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