Erik Zou ‘19, Award-Winning Artist, Exhibits Work in the Great Hall

When Erik Zou ‘19 was young, he had a fish tank. Fascinated by the beauty of the fish it contained, but not yet possessing the fine motor skills to capture it, he asked his dad to draw the fish as he watched, completely rapt. When he was still too young to hold a paint brush, he would tag along to his older brother’s art classes. Not long after, when he was gifted a book full of images of fish and some tracing paper, he went from appreciating to creating. Today, Erik has won many national art awards and scholarships, including National Gold and Silver Medals in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. This month, he will present a show of selected works in Roxbury Latin’s Great Hall, the first current student to receive such an honor in recent history. More than 60 of Erik’s pieces will be on display from January 8 through February 12.

The collection actually contains some fish—a nod to his childhood subject of choice and a fun scavenger hunt if you’re game for it—but what immediately greets you upon entering the Hall is a collection of watercolor portraits. Erik has gravitated toward watercolor in recent years. He calls the medium “exciting” and “relaxed”; he loves how it allows him to blend colors in interesting ways and create large, sweeping brush strokes. It doesn’t hurt that watercolor is fast, he says; it provides instant gratification that is a refreshing change from the slow pace of oil painting. By nature a fastidious worker, Erik initially struggled to adapt to the unpredictability of watercolor. But adapt he has; the renditions of his grandparents on display are ethereal and authentic. He chooses to paint people he knows well, he says, because he believes a portrait reveals more than just what a person looks like; knowing someone deeply adds an important element to each piece. He also often chooses to paint himself, though his reason for this is mostly humility: “I feel OK if I mess myself up!” he says.

Erik is a versatile artist: his watercolor portraits hang opposite large oil landscapes and smaller ink cityscapes. An entire wall is even dedicated to Roxbury Latin itself. Visitors will recognize the organ and the podium from Rousmaniere Hall and the Headmaster’s residence among these pieces. Of particular note, though, is the watercolor depicting the façade of the Perry and Ernst buildings. Erik painted this piece in an hour; it may seem fast, but keep in mind it was snowing at the time, and Erik was wearing one glove on his non-dominant hand. His watercolors kept freezing as he worked, and much of the paint was in fact slush as it met the canvas.

Erik says seeing the show come together makes him feel proud. “It looks so official to see your work hanging in the Great Hall like that,” he says. The show represents years of work, and putting it together was no small undertaking. Erik is grateful for his parents, who spent hours helping him hang each piece—his dad even matted and framed most of it!—and to the many friends he enlisted to help. We look forward to celebrating Erik’s art this month; we hope you can join us! There will be an opening reception on January 15 at 5:30 p.m. as well as a closing reception on February 12 at 6 p.m. Guests can enjoy the work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays in the time between these receptions.