Discovering Identity in Art

She isn’t on the cheer squad or the captain of a sports team. She isn’t the class president or homecoming queen. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t an integral part of Smithtown West.

Marissa Coppola might not be recognized by many people, but to the art kids, she is all of those things. Coppola is in her second year of AP Art with Mr. Halem, she is National Art Honor Society (NAHS) Co-President and she is in charge of costumes and art crew for this year’s spring musical, The Wizard of Oz.

Coppola works on a lot of different things, including Mickey Mouse ears, a holiday light show with her dad, fashion, and, of course, her more typical art work like these two pieces (Debra and From the Garage) which are a collage and a charcoal piece.
Charcoal is a very controlled media which is why it’s her favorite at the moment. She says, “Charcoal gives me the ability to work on one specific area and hone in on one point and not feel like the liquid is spilling everywhere. It’s very clean and precise and I like that.”

This particular piece that Coppola chose, From the Garage, was an assignment she did in a drawing class at Carnegie Mellon University’s Pre-College Program with Professor Becky Slemmons. Slemmons set up a still life for her students to learn how to use charcoal properly. Coppola chose this piece because she feels it truly displays her ability and talent. Shes says she spent almost two weeks on this project and really saw a growth in herself. “I really was getting to take each and every inch with perfection and complete thought and it wasn’t rushed.”

While working on this project Coppola’s professor handed her something called a Conté crayon to add color to From the Garage. At the end of this project Professor Slemmons was very impressed by Coppola’s work. This was something that made this piece so important to Coppola.

The other piece Coppola chose to talk about was Debra, which recently took first place in Suffolk County Community College annual high school art exhibition and competition. This piece was inspired by her 10 year old brother Michael. Her brother identifies himself as gender creative or gender neutral gender fluidity. He does not conform to any boy or girl standards. He does not like to be told he’s a boy and he does not like to be told he’s a girl; he likes to be Michael.
Marissa describes her brother as her inspiration for not only this piece but many others as well. “Every day he wakes up and he goes to school with a smile on his face, you know, he may be in pain on the inside. But he gets up and walks out that door and goes to school every day with all those kids. And that’s something that is definitely the definition of a hero to me. And even though he’s younger me, I look up to him as a huge inspiration. I could never do what he does, every day, I couldn’t do it. And he just, he’s just a bright soul who could make anyone smile.”

Coppola realized her brother’s story is never ending and is something everyone should hear about. Michael has always been quite a feminine child. He loves to wear heels and dresses. This piece is called Debra because he calls himself Queen Debra.
Marissa says, “There’s always been something special about him and I knew ever since he was a kid. I mean, since he was baby, we always thought he was gonna be a football player. Until one day he put on heels and said, ‘I want to be just like Marissa.’”
Michael is still so young and doesn’t know exactly who he is but Michael and his family take this one step at a time. They told him, “You could wear the heels, you could wear the dress, you could paint your nails. We even let them die his hair pink to see where he was comfortable. And he there got to a point where he was like, I like being my Michael. But sometimes I just like to be in a dress.”

When hearing Coppola tell her story, I couldn’t have been happier. Her dad is just as respectful and loving to Michael as the rest of the family. He has no problem with Michael singing and acting instead of playing sports or wearing heels instead of jerseys. Michael enjoys doing theater and playing the girl roles, like the Queen of Hearts or Mike Teavee’s mom in Willy Wonka, are some of his favorites.

Michael’s dad is one of his biggest supporters and is the heart of one of Marissa’s side projects, the Christmas light show. Coppola and her dad put together a light show at their house everyday from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve. The show runs from 4:30pm until 10:00pm. However, Coppola suggests 8:30pm to be the best time to go. The show has spinning lights, four different songs, and snowflakes on the house. The Coppolas Christmas decorations don’t end outside though. The inside of the house consists of nine Christmas trees and a village.

Coppola’s other biggest side project is her Mickey Mouse ears. Disney is everything for this high school senior. Since she was little, she has always loved Disney. When she went to Disney for her sixteenth birthday, her mom bought her a pair of MIckey Mouse ears and this sparked an idea. She started making her own Mickey Mouse ears for any character and will always make ears for any friends going to Disney. Coppola is still working on a website, but for now her ears can be found on her instagram, @imagineearsanddesigns.

Coppola hopes to incorporate this love of Disney into her future life. She is going to be majoring in themed entertainment in college and has already been accepted to her top school, Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). She hopes to eventually work with Disney and be a part of their Imaginear team. “Storytelling has always been a part of my life. So I figured, hey, let’s go for it. Disney… takes me out of this crazy society that we have. And it puts me in this other world where I could just be happy and there’s no distress and I can eliminate all the chaos going around me and just indulge into this world.”

Coppola’s talents don’t end there. She is interested in fashion and is incredible at sewing. This skill has also been utilized at Smithtown High School West through the spring musical. Coppola will be in charge of costuming, art crew, and helping out with makeup for this year’s musical, The Wizard of Oz. The performances will be on February 28th, March 1st, and March 2nd.

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