A lonely student standing outside his school looks at the empty building inside.

The black charcoal drawing, the frown on the subject’s face, the intensity of his eyes, the empty street in the background: Some of the more sanguine among us might ordinarily find it difficult to relate to these elements in A Year Overdue by Alexander Marquez, of Richland, Washington, who won the 2021 Congressional Art Competition for the state’s Fourth Congressional District. While Alex tried to show how he and his classmates felt during the pandemic, he also sees his work as representing the emotions of so many others as well.

“My work, which was done during the pandemic, is meant to capture the quarantine as a moment in time,” he said, “so it is essentially supposed to be a historical recollection of that period of the pandemic and how it affected high schoolers, and I’m sure, on a broader scale, many other people.”

A Year Overdue, by Alexander Marquez, the Congressional Art Competition winner for Washington's Fourth District
A Year Overdue, by Alexander Marquez

As difficult as the pandemic was for Alex and his classmates, it afforded him the opportunity to create A Year Overdue and submit it to the Congressional Art Competition.

First held in 1982, the Congressional Art Competition is a bipartisan initiative of the U.S. House of Representatives to support the artistic talents of high school students. Every Member of the House may hold an art competition for high school students in their districts. The winning artworks are displayed for a year in an exhibit in the Cannon Tunnel, which connects the House of Representatives office buildings to the U.S. Capitol. Members of Congress, congressional staff, and thousands upon thousands of visitors view the exhibit each year as they pass between the buildings.

Though Alex had submitted artwork to several other contests previously, this was the first time he won.

“I was thrilled,” he said. “It felt like an affirmation of how my artwork compared to my peers across the country.”

Alex Marquez, 2021 Congressional Art Competition winner for Washington’s Fourth Congressional District (Photo courtesy of Alex Marquez)

The best advice for creating art he has received might seem paradoxical. He says he must “let go of how my mind perceives what I see, and to consider a subject in no more than angles, curves, light, and dark.”

Alex effectively captures light and darkness in A Year Overdue using charcoal. Charcoal is his favorite medium since he can use it in many ways.

“At this time, it is the most intuitive medium for me to put what I see in my head onto a piece of paper,” he said.

Alex draws inspiration from Claude Monet, Franz Marc, and Edward Hopper. The solitary figure looking pressed up against a window and shadows of A Year Overdue evoke the lonely people and darkness in any number of Hopper’s works, like Nighthawks or Automat. Taking everyday scenes for his subjects, Hopper masterfully portrays both the particularities of the times in which he worked and universal emotions and experiences. Alex does much the same in portraying a high school student denied a year of in-person learning due to the pandemic.

Just as Alex tried to portray what so many people were feeling in A Year Overdue, people, in general, stimulate his creativity.

“I find that almost everyone that I know inspires me in my creative process,” he said, “because they are all creative themselves in their own unique fashion.”

Though A Year Overdue portrays the difficulties of life during the pandemic, Alex keeps things light by stand-up comedy, which he says is one of his favorite pastimes. He said he watched lots of stand-up comedy and he’s the co-founder of group at Hanford High School. His favorite movie is the iconic high school comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (which includes a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, prominently featuring a shot of Hopper’s Nighthawks).

Not surprisingly, he says the grinning emoji describe him best.

“Not the completely smiling emoji,” he said, “because I’m often happy but I can get annoyed pretty quickly.”

Students who would like more information about how to enter should contact their U.S. Representative. Contact information is available at House.gov.

The Congressional Institute has sponsored the Congressional Art Competition since 2009. The Congressional Institute is a not-for-profit organization that helps Members of Congress better serve their constituents and helps constituents better understand the operations of the national legislature. It publishes The Sausage Factory blog, Surviving Inside Congress, and the U.S. House of Representatives Floor Procedures Manual.

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