Artist of the Issue: Janice Zhai

From choreographing dance routines to designing clothes, Janice Zhai ‘21 has done a bit of everything. She is an art prefect and recently received two honorable mentions in the Scholastic Art Awards for fashion design. She also launched her own Instagram account, where she shares her work (@janicedumps). 

What arts programs have you participated in during your time at Groton? Which one has left the biggest impact on you?


I’ve dabbled in a bunch of art programs throughout my time at Groton, mainlyinvolving dance, theater, and the studio/visual art department. Being an art prefect and taking part in visual art classes has probably left the biggest impact on me because they’ve not only taught me a lot of the techniques you need for any artistic discipline but also have really pushed me creatively. In my Advanced Studio Art class, actually, I’ve learned to dip my toe into so many mediums that I never imagined I would try.

Out of the many mediums you do, which one is your favorite? Why?


Fashion Design would probably be my favorite because it’s kind of like a whole slew of different mediums thrown into one. You’ve got the designing/illustrating stages that involve drawing, sketching, pattern-making, where you are being super structural and precise like an architect. Then the sewing stage, which I like to think is similar to sculpting something. And finally, the presentation aspect of it all, where there are so many factors at play (like photography, movement, music, etc.). It’s also an incredibly imaginative process, which is right up my alley because I’m a big conceptual person and love using clothes to express different ideas/messages. Clothes are awesome too.

How did you come to love art?


My imagination has always been an incredible driving force in my life, especially when I was younger because I was such a shy kid. It wasn’t much of a surprise that art became the easiest and most natural way for me to express myself. Funny enough though, my mom actually tried enrolling me in drawing lessons when I was around seven years old or something, but I hated the structure of it. We’d spend seven classes just drawing lines, which, to me, felt like kind of a waste of money at the time. So I fell in love with the more free, expressive mediums first before wanting to learn all the techniques to it.


What has been your biggest moment as an artist at Groton? 


One of the things that has really stood out to me, surprisingly, doesn’t actually have to do with visual arts but dance. I’ve had so many insane opportunities to choreograph here, and for so many different functions as well. I think that in my years here, I’ve been able to choreograph more than ten dances, which is absolutely wild. 

A highlight was definitely the first solo I choreographed during my fourth form fall for the dance recital. It was my first individual piece in a long time, and I got to splice audios from a bunch of friends into the music I was dancing to. The dance routine evolved into a trio that I was able to perform on MLK day, which was super memorable.


How do you think your art has changed since coming to Groton?


Honestly, Groton has been the biggest trajectory in my artistic “career” because I’ve been so stretched creatively and conceptually here, not just in the art or dance studio but also in classrooms and interactions with friends. So much of the stuff that inspires my art or that I try to imbue into my art comes from arbitrary discussions in Expo class or 2 A.M. conversations with people in the dorm, so Groton has really helped me establish meaning out of the random things I create.


What led you to share your art on social media?


It was a very spur-of-the-moment decision because I was exceptionally bored and truly just wanted an excuse to create more art. Ultimately, I think that sharing my art on social media has challenged me to explore the limits of what I can do (trust me, I know that they’re there)—it’s given me a lot more inspiration to try different mediums of visual art and navigate how to maximize my creativity within certain mediums. I just did a portrait series of a bunch of friends where I tried to individualize each piece to an aesthetic and vibe of a specific person. It’s also been a great way to connect with other artists on social media, which has been such a cool source of inspiration and learning. Ironically, it’s made me less critical of my own artwork as well, because the account is essentially an “art dump” (the username is literally @janicedumps), so I just create and post whatever I want and whenever I feel like it.


What do you hope to share with people through your art?


I just want to share a little bit of myself through my art—I feel like the stuff I make is a tiny extension of myself, or rather my mind, and sharing that with people will let them get a glimpse into who I truly am. The creative process makes me really happy as well, so I hope that I can spread some of that joy to others because that’s super important to have. Sometimes my work also aims to address certain issues that need shedding light on, so if I can give voice to those experiences–or even people who go through/struggle with those experiences– that’s all I can hope for.


What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?

Just try. Using your creative talent does take courage. Believe me, my inner critic is all over the random stuff that I make. Most of the time I don’t feel I’m improving much or even creating something worth sharing, but there is a wonderful freedom in doing what you love and expressing your own artistic creativity. You never know– there might be someone to fawn over your latest art journal spread at Salt N Light. Honestly, art is so subjective that a splotch of paint gets hung up at the Met, so just try.