A Danville high school student has been named as the first-place winner in the Congressional Art Competition on behalf of Rep. Mark DeSaulnier's District 11.
Menglin Cai of Monte Vista High School won the local competition, with her submission entitled "Growing Up." Her work is now headed for display in Washington DC.
"It was a joy to host the Congressional Art Competition again this year and to see the incredible talent demonstrated by our community's young artists," DeSaulnier said in a statement. "I'm excited to congratulate Menglin and all of the other students who participated in the 2022 competition. I am inspired by the creativity of every artist who submitted a piece this year and look forward to seeing Menglin's art representing Contra Costa County in the halls of Congress."
Cai, now a sophomore, submitted her first piece to the competition as a freshman last year, earning second place then. She said she spent the past year, ahead of this year's competition, working on attention to detail in her art.
"It required a lot of work for me to complete it," Cai said of her winning submission this year. "Last year was about freedom, and last year was oil painting, but I did not focus on a lot of detail."
While she was disappointed in not advancing in the competition last year, Cai said that she sees competitions in general as opportunities to hone her skills and get her work out to an audience.
"I always felt that I had the capability to win this award because I've been working hard to improve my skills as long as I have lived," Cai said. "I'm happy that people are appreciating my art, and I will continue to improve myself."
Prior to entering the competition last year, Cai got her start as a young artist by drawing on the walls of her childhood home in China as far back as she can remember.
"Every single wall in the house was occupied by a drawing," Cai said.
While some parents might be less than enthusiastic about these early artistic displays from their children, Cai said that hers were always supportive, allowing and encouraging her to satiate her passion for art as she's grown up.
Cai's lifelong passion for art and recent efforts to focus on attention to detail for this year's submission led to the production of "Growing Up", a highly detailed oil painting of a young girl in bright, festive, traditional garb of Northwest China.
"The girl is going to a festival and she's wearing a beautiful traditional outfit, and everyone is happy," Cai said. "And because they live in the northwest of China, and they have extremely bad weather, even though something bad is happening, they're enjoying the moment."
Cai said that while the piece was rooted in a particular culture and region, she hoped it would send a universal message from the U.S. Capitol, where it's set to be displayed.
"I just want everyone to enjoy every single second of their life," Cai said.
Cai emphasized the natural conditions and weather patterns in northwest China as part of the message behind her piece, meant to signify the ability to rise above difficult and unpleasant conditions.
"The painting was from northwest China where the natural conditions are the worst in China ... and humans can easily get burnt, and it can get cold and freeze people's heads and feet," Cai said. "However, the people living here are still living happily."
The piece and the message behind it, of resilience in the midst of difficult conditions, also come from a young artist in a generation who is grappling with uncertainty about the future, and difficult circumstances of their own.
"This anxiety I have, and confusion and hope for the future ... I'm figuring out what my future is," Cai said.
Despite this uncertainty and the shift toward hyper-realistic, detailed work that her winning submission this year represents, Cai said that she was interested in working with brighter colors and more cartoonish styles that would appeal to younger children in her future endeavors.
Second place in this year's competition from DeSaulnier's district went to Joseph Pak of College Preparatory School in Walnut Creek, for a charcoal piece called "Uprising," with third going to Concord High School Senior Amelia Porter, for a quilted fabric collage called "I'm not Ok." Pak's piece will be displayed at DeSaulnier's Walnut Creek office, with Porter's being displayed in his Richmond Office.
Cai and the two runners-up were selected from 23 pieces in total that were submitted across District 11, by a panel of judges from the Contra Costa Community College District, Los Medanos College and Contra Costa College.