Lincoln student excels in art world

Lincoln High School senior Arthur Thao was recognized with the Lester Schwartz Scholarship for his accomplishments in art at the school's end-of-year ceremonies.

The $1,000 award is given each year to a student pursuing a career in the visual arts and is in memory of Lester Schwartz.

A Lincoln High graduate, Schwartz was an acclaimed artist whose work is included in permanent collections at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Walker Center in Minneapolis.

The award is one of many achievements for Thao.

Thao's teachers praise him as one of the greatest high school artists they’ve worked with. And his talent was noticed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, whose art department awarded Thao with the Department of Art Portfolio Scholarship. The $8,000 is the largest award given by the department to an incoming freshman and recognizes Thao for submitting the strongest art portfolio out of his class.

This love for artwork began in kindergarten with casual sketches and drawings. As he grew up, Thao fell in love with anime and began making his own anime drawings. His teachers noticed his work, and encouraged him to take classes. After starting with anime and cartoon drawings, Thao’s work developed into the realistic portraits and mixed-medium paintings he became known for in high school.

“My interest kind of built over the years, and as I practiced more, I came to love it more,” Thao said.

Thao’s talent was recognized early by Lincoln High art teacher Barb Bundy Jost. When Thao was in sixth grade, Jost returned to teaching at Lincoln and noticed the young boy’s raw talent. She soon signed him up for middle school classes.

Although she recognizes Thao is a natural artist, what Jost applauds is his approach to art, to school and to life. She describes him as a “sensitive, wonderful human being,” and believes his compassionate and emotional approach is what sets his artwork apart.

“He is a rare commodity,” Jost said. “He’s kind and sympathetic, and he understands how important that is when creating a visual representation of how he feels. I think everyone who sees what Arthur makes feels what Arthur was feeling when he is creating that art.”

Continuing to push Thao quickly became a challenge for Jost and the other art teachers at Lincoln. He took every art class the school offered by the end of his junior year, and spent his senior year in open studio classes working individually with his teachers. Thao remained responsive to his teachers’ guidance, tackling new mediums and new emotions to expand his skills and understanding of his art.

Thao’s main mediums in high school were pencil drawings and paintings, but in college, he hopes portraits will become a side focus. At UW-Madison, he will major in graphic design, and he also aims to expand his skills in photography.

“I’m kind of nervous,” Thao said. “Art is a tricky life. If other people don’t like your stuff, they won’t support you. But now I have so much support. I just hope I can continue this.”

In Jost’s eyes, Thao has one more step to make — refining his personal style, so his art is recognizable by even the casual observer. And she believes this level of artistic control — and the success that will come with it — isn’t far off for Thao.

“I have no doubt in my mind that Arthur is going to do some beautiful, beautiful work,” Jost said. “You know a Monet when you see a Monet, you know a Van Gogh when you see a Van Gogh. I think we’re all going to stop one day and say, ‘Oh, there’s an Arthur Thao.’”