DONALDSONVILLE — A mural of famous black men of politics and art painted on the wall of the cafeteria at Donaldsonville High School still draws students to it, though its been there since last semester.
Martin Luther King, President Barack Obama, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela and Bob Marley seem absorbed in thought or struck by inspiration in the portraits painted in shades of gray and white on a black background.
The mural carries the weight of a commissioned work, but it is, instead, the result of a school assignment for the artist, senior Tamerick Zachary.
Art teacher Kyte Aymond said the usual assignment he gives to his Advanced Placement art students is a portrait of a famous person, broken down on canvas into shades of black, gray and white.
For Zachary, the assignment grew a bit.
“The administrators wanted Tamerick to leave his mark on the school, because he really enjoys art,” Aymond said. “In the community, he’s known for drawing.”
Zachary completed the mural during the first semester this school year and is now working on a new project, a mural of famous black women.
“I’m just doing it for the school. It’s a gift for the school,” he said.
Women faculty at the school had asked him if such a thing would be possible, and Zachary decided to take the challenge.
He has just finished sketching, working from a photograph, his first portrait in the new mural, that of poet Maya Angelou.
The other women he will portray will be Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman and Michelle Obama.
Zachary had begun sketching Oprah Winfrey at one point, but people at the school “had different ideas. They wanted somebody more historic,” he said.
He agreed with them.
Zachary, 19, joined the Ascension Parish school district’s talented art program when he was in the sixth grade at Lowery Middle.
But he’s been drawing since he was a young child, maybe as young as 5, Zachary said.
One of his brothers — he has four brothers and a sister — is also an artist, studying graphic art design at Louisiana Tech University.
“I looked up to him. When I saw him drawing, I started drawing, too,” Tamerick Zachary said of older brother D’andre. “He says I surpassed him. I say, ‘No, I didn’t.’ ”
Zachary, the son of Andre and Tamara Zachary, is humble about his talent. While many people always knew he was an artist, Tamerick Zachary’s gift became known to the community at large in the wake of a tragedy in summer 2014.
Donaldsonville High student Brandon Augusta was killed that summer in a murder that shook the city.
“I drew the portrait (of Brandon) that same night,” Zachary said.
He brought the portrait to school for students to sign and it was later given to Brandon’s family.
“It brought tears and smiles,” Zachary said.
On a recent school day, some of Zachary’s classmates stopped by the mural of the famous black leaders to study their features again.
“He’s been drawing since the third grade,” senior Andrew Cargo said. “He gets better and better.”
For the large murals, Zachary sketched the outlines of the subjects’ photographs on the wall using a projector, then drew in patterns, for highlighting in different tones later.
Up close, the just-finished pencil sketch of Angelou looks like a flat plane of squiggles.
The painting technique used in the murals is called monachromatic scale, said teacher Aymond.
“It breaks down (the artwork) to black, white and gray,” Aymond said.
“Up close, it breaks up,” he said of the way the portrait seems to disassemble the closer one gets to it. But when the viewer steps back, “your eyes put it all together.”
Zachary, who’s also a long-distance runner on the track team at Donaldsonville High, is looking into colleges where he can pursue his passion: art.
He said he realizes “a lot of people look up to me.”
“I want to see everybody make it.”