WHEELING - When asked why she makes art, Sophia Kayafas gets thoughtful and then smiles.
"I am a creative and passionate being, and I always have to be making something," she said. "The arts are just in me. It's always been in me. It's a blessing, and I'm so thankful to have it because it gives me so much purpose and meaning."
Kayafas, a Wheeling resident, is only a junior in college, but already she shows the maturity and talent of a much more experienced artist.
YOUNG ARTIST – Sophia Kayafas, a junior at West Liberty University, presents “Heavy,” an oil painting of her grandfather she made in 2011. Kayafas has only been pursuing art since her freshman year of high school, but landed her first professional exhibit of her drawings and paintings at Shaw Galleries in Pittsburgh this month. -- Contributed
She has a passion for people and portraiture and renders her subjects beautifully through oil and graphite. Her portraits are often personal - many of her subjects are family members or close friends, and each portrait feels like an intimate encounter with the subject. Kayafas said capturing an individual's personality is one reason she creates.
"I've always been interested and enamored by people," Kayafas said. "The reason I choose portraiture is because I have an empathy for humanity and painting people is, to the best of my ability, a way to understand people - by painting them."
Kayafas recently had the chance to display her talent in her first show at a professional gallery in Pittsburgh - something that is just a dream for most young artists. Her exhibit "Progression" was shown at Shaw Galleries from Sept. 13-18. The exhibit showed her growth as an artist from high school to her most recently completed work.
"It was an amazing experience," she said. "I've learned a lot about myself and my work. I got a lot of good feedback and some new ideas. There was a lot of work put into it, and it paid off."
Kayafas said the exhibit introduced her to the "theatrical" side of art when it comes to a show. For the first time she learned how to hang and price work, as well as learning to talk and connect with her viewers.
She said the piece in the exhibit that has influenced her the most was a painting of her grandfather titled "Heavy." In the painting, her grandfather holds his head in his hands while reading an unseen newspaper at the family's kitchen table.
"My grandfather is this monumental man and he had just lost his wife, my grandmother. He was holding his head and it was so heavy, there's such weight to it. He had this face like he wasn't really reading the paper, just thinking," Kayafas said. "It turned out to be one of my favorite pieces because I enjoyed the process so much from concept to image. That whole journey was fantastic, and I always try to relive it before I start other paintings."
Though Kayafas has been creating art all her life, she started pursuing it heavily her first year at Wheeling Park High School. Before high school she had wanted to be an actress, but at the beginning of her freshman year she was feeling lost and started to become "a little introverted," so she started drawing and playing music instead.
"I started drawing pictures of animals and people and I realized how much I like the process of drawing and I liked the product that I could get," she said. "It's grown a lot since then. I feel like my work now has more content in it than it did when I first started. I paint with more purpose now."
Her series in "Progression" showed how Kayafas evolved from her high school to college years, including new techniques and mediums such as her use of oils instead of acrylic paint and transition into color. Kayafas now attends West Liberty University, where she has "gained a lot of knowledge" about making art. She said it was at West Liberty that she first started working with oils and that she is now "hooked" on the medium.
Kayafas said her next project will be a series of self-portraits that will explore the idea of perfection and beauty. The portraits will combine the Greek classical ideal of beauty with modern influences such as images from fashion magazines. She said she is curious to see how they will turn out - a feeling she often has when creating.
"I'm really young. I don't know how to make my own images all the time," Kayafas said. "Sometimes I mess up - I think that's the beauty of it. It doesn't go as planned. There's always ideas in my head, there's always messages I want to say. Right now I'm gaining the skills and knowledge to convey those messages in the best way possible, but there's going to be a lot of bad paintings to come. I'm excited for it."