The art of philanthrophy
August 20, 2013
By Neil Pierson
Skyline grad uses art to pay it forward
Karan Sunil’s infatuation with art began at an early age, and he’s developed his gifts to the point where one of the most prestigious schools in the country wants him to study there.
Sunil, who graduated from Skyline High School in June, will soon be headed to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he plans to work toward an art production career in film or television.
“I don’t know yet whether that’s animation, whether that’s storyboarding or character design,” he said. “That’s something I’ll have to discover and figure out.”
While Sunil’s future holds brilliant and nearly endless possibilities, he’s not just thinking about himself. Earlier this month at Sammamish City Hall, he auctioned four of his original paintings and offered prints to donors. The $1,170 he raised won’t go to his tuition or expenses in Chicago, but to Art With Heart, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that uses art to help children with traumatic backgrounds.
Sunil said he had been planning to do a charity event for a while. After working through most of high school on a portfolio to attract college recruiters, he had a massive and varied collection of digital and acrylic paintings, two of his favorite media.
Rather than let the art sit around his home, he realized he had the chance to do something bigger.
“I realize there are a lot of other kids out there who deserve the outlet of art more than I do, and kids that have gone through many more hardships than I have,” Sunil said. “I’ve lived a pretty comfortable life, and I feel like it’s a little selfish that I could get so many opportunities with art and just keep that to myself.”
Art With Heart has reached more than 70,000 children worldwide through its various books and programs. Fiona Riley, a development associate who worked directly with Sunil on his fundraiser, said the money will go toward developing leadership guides for the book, “Magnificent Marvelous Me!,” which is aimed at building self-identity and self-respect in children who’ve experienced neglect, abuse, divorce or the death of a parent.
Riley said Art With Heart has many partners, including Seattle Public Schools, Childhaven and South Mental Health, who use the books to reach children.
It was unusual to see a teenager like Sunil offer help, Riley said.
“We definitely have more of a corporate edge, corporate sponsors,” she said. “We don’t have the younger artist, which is what was really nice and really appealing about him reaching out to us.”
Sunil draws his inspiration from a wide array of people, places and ideas. He looks up to Muhammad Ali and Mahatma Gandhi. He loves the beauty of Seattle. He listens to an eclectic blend of music, and he listens to his friends’ feedback about art.
When Sunil feels particularly inspired, he’ll often stay up all night.
“I usually don’t get sleepy if I’m working,” he said. “My goal is what’s most important.”
Sunil’s work has been given high-profile recognition on several instances. Last December, he drew strength from the play of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who led his team to the brink of an NFC Championship Game berth. Sunil created a life-sized painting of Wilson, and in trying to figure out what to do with it, he decided to contact the Seahawks.
Five months later, Wilson met Sunil and his friends at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, the team’s training facility in Renton, and signed the painting.
Sunil also submitted his “Elements of Nature” piece, a digital creation, to Pharrell Williams’ i am OTHER, a creative brand that showcases artists, musicians and fashion designers. The piece was displayed in its online art gallery.
From March through May, Sunil’s “Progressive Shades” piece was part of the Bellevue Arts Museum’s “20 Under 20” display, in which 20 local artists under age 20 were highlighted.
“It was a great honor for me because it was one of the first times that I actually entered my work into a pool of other artists’ work and got selected,” Sunil said.