Charles Rounds Plans to Change His World With ArtMay 29, 2020
Charles Rounds III, a senior at Power Academic and Performing Arts Complex in Jackson, Mississippi, won the $6,000 grand prize in the ArtEffect Project, a student art competition sponsored by the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes. Charles’s “Saved by Science” depicts Dr. Eugene Lazowski, who saved thousands of Polish Jews during World War II by injecting them with a harmless bacteria that caused them to test positive for typhus. We spoke with Charles about his winning work, making art during the COVID-19 pandemic and how he plans to use his artistic talents to revitalize his community.
I started drawing when I was in first or second grade, mostly characters from movies I loved. I also drew horses in many different colors on manila paper. My sister Christina is older than I am and was also into art, so she was a huge inspiration.
My school specializes in the arts. I’ve had art there every day since fifth grade. This year I had art for two hours every morning, then academic subjects in the afternoon. I got out early some afternoons and would hang around the art room to talk with the younger students and give them advice.
Some of Charles's first drawings
I heard about the ArtEffect Project from my teacher, Ms. [Renna] Moore. She gave me a list of the different heroes. I was excited to learn about Dr. Eugene Lazowski because we studied the Holocaust in school and I’d read “Maus” and other books about the time. When we learned about the Holocaust, we studied all the awful things the Nazis did: people being forced out of their homes, marching for miles, the gas chambers. Reading about Dr. Lazowski, it was the first time I’d heard a hopeful, positive story about that period, someone who was helping from the shadows. What he did was very risky and dangerous. He could have sacrificed his career, everything he had worked so hard for. But in an interview later in his life, he said that doctors take an oath to take care of people, to help and save them. And to him that meant all people, including the Jews. Dr. Lazowski’s story changed the way I think about heroes.
From the beginning I knew I wanted my artwork to tell Dr. Lazowski’s story. I painted him as an older man, with scenes from his life around him as if he’s telling you about himself. I drew him in a lab coat to show his caring personality, quiet but determined. I added a doctor helping a patient, and Jews in striped uniforms celebrating their rescue. I drew the Nazi flag, then took a lighter to it. That was an experiment—I started with a few holes, then added more at my teacher’s suggestion.
I never plan out a whole work up front. It comes to me in pieces and I add parts as I go along. I didn’t sketch this project, just started with the portrait and let the story unfold. My teachers helped me figure out how to arrange my ideas into a cohesive design. I didn’t want viewers to be confused when they saw the piece—I wanted them to pay attention to all the details and see how they all worked together.
While I was working on this piece, we had a “virtual classroom” via Zoom where I explained my work to the fourth and fifth graders in my school’s visual arts track. I talked to them about the meaning of the work and told them Dr. Lazowski’s story. They asked a lot of questions, technical things like what media I used, and also questions about Dr. Lazowski’s accomplishments and how he helped his community. I asked them how they interpreted different parts of the painting, and their feedback helped me figure out how to tell the story better.
I was really surprised to learn that I’d won the ArtEffect Project grand prize. My teachers told me we were doing a Zoom interview so they could ask me questions about my submission. My mom told me later that she knew I’d won something but didn’t know it was the top award. Most of the money is going toward college, but I’m also going to buy a car so I can drive back and forth to school next year.
Since COVID-19 closed schools, I’ve been in my house drawing and creating. I’m going to study architecture at Mississippi State next year, so I’ve been making models of buildings, too. Sometimes I work in my room, but most of the time I’m in the living room because I like having other people around. My mom and sister give me feedback on my work, which I appreciate. I just finished my AP Art portfolio. It was weird doing that at home instead of in class with my teachers and other students.
My plan is to have my own architecture firm here in Jackson and to revitalize our downtown. There are lots of old buildings that haven’t been renovated, and that would be a big accomplishment. I also want to open a home to support men who need spiritual and financial help.
For younger students who are interested in art, I’d tell them to be open-minded. People can be very closed-minded about different types of art, especially abstract art. Be ready to learn about different artists. And practice a lot. If you put in the time and effort, it will pay off.
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