First Class works explore human condition in MAC yapang exhibition

Published on 09 February 2024

Molly Bell with her mum, Emma, and the HSC artwork inspired by her mother.jpg
Artist Elle Vitnell with the crocheted portrait of her late father, David, and a photo of him at home in Port Stephens.jpg

Love, loss, life. Each story behind the remarkable artworks featured in this year’s First Class exhibition is different, but they have all emerged from deeply personal and passionate beginnings.

First Class 23, opening on Sunday 11 February at the Museum of Art and Culture, yapang, showcases some of the best art produced by Hunter Region HSC Visual Arts students in 2023, from sculptures and multimedia installations to paintings and intricate drawings.

First Class Curators Karen Gilbertson and Chris Denzin said the complexities of the human condition featured strongly in this year’s artworks.

“Students have explored the wide arc of what it means to be human, embracing love, strength, fear and loss in their works,” Gilbertson and Denzin said.

“Students’ breadth of conceptual development and maturity in dealing with difficult subjects is to be admired and respected.”

St Philip’s Christian College Port Stephens graduate Elle Vitnell said she stopped counting how many hours she spent on her stunning work, but the crocheted portrait of her father, David, was a labour of heartfelt love.

“My artwork was a coping mechanism following the passing of my father at the beginning of my HSC,” Vitnell said.

“I wanted to make something to memorialise and celebrate my father’s life.”

Vitnell said it was special to be included in First Class 23.

“It feels great to have my work recognised and appreciated, seeing as it’s a work with so much emotion and trauma behind it,” she said.

“And it’s also pleasing that people aren’t forgetting about my dad.”

Inspiration was close to home and heart, too, for 2023 Kotara High School graduate Molly Bell, whose artwork features 10 “fierce ladies from various cultures – a love letter to womenfolk throughout time”.

“My artwork is largely influenced by my close maternal relationship with my mum,” Bell said.

“I wanted to reflect that joy and bond I have with her in a beautiful and relatable way. That’s the core reason why I represented so many diverse women and symbols.”

Bell, who has turned her love of art into a small business run through Instagram, said she loved that there was no “right or wrong” with visual arts.

“I love the creative freedom to transfer whatever is in my mind into an artwork without limitations,” she said.

“Everyone’s art is unique, whether it’s in their process or the finished result. I find it so interesting to see what others create.”

Entry to First Class 23 is free, and the exhibition is open until Sunday 7 April.

Sunday’s opening event kicks off at 10am with free art-making activities for children and families, an 11am-2.30pm youth artisan market and the official opening at 2.30pm.

Go to for more information.