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RED CROSS BENEFITS FROM AN ARTIST’S INSPIRATION

Inspired by the USA for Africa effort, which produced the hit single “We Are the World” and raised millions of dollars for African famine relief, Harushi Matsui decided to offer his talents to a cause.

Matsui, a graphic designer, contacted the Orange County chapter of the American Red Cross with the idea of creating a “gallery quality” poster as a fund-raiser for the group. Now, nearly a year later, “Exanimo” is a reality.

“Exanimo” was created by Matsui with his friend and sometime business associate, illustrative photographer Charles Michael Murray. Their effort will be unveiled at a special one-day showing at noon Sunday at the Laguna Art Museum’s South Coast Plaza satellite. Murray and Matsui will be on hand to sign prints.

In the poster, red, white and blue patterns are reflected in two black plastic, stylized busts. For Matsui and Murray, the photograph projects an aura of gentleness and caring that fits its title, “Exanimo,” a Latin word meaning “from the heart.”

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The artists arranged for donations of the printing and paper by Orange County Lithograph Co. and color separations by Crosfield Electronics/Grant Hall. “They (Matsui and Murray) have been conscious all the way along to keep this a 100% donation,” said Harry Huggins, public relations director for the local Red Cross chapter. Signed and numbered prints of “Exanimo” will sell for $150 ($250 framed) and posters for $25 ($125 framed). The run will be limited to 250 high-quality prints and 2,000 posters. All proceeds will go to the local Red Cross chapter to provide Orange County residents with youth and family programs, disaster relief and blood services.

When Huggins was first approached in May, 1985, with the idea for a benefit poster, he was skeptical; he says he often gets proposals for fund-raising ideas but that few materialize. However, he asked Matsui for a detailed proposal and received it the same week. “I was amazed,” Huggins said. “These people were serious.”

Huggins said artists have donated individual artworks to the chapter but never before has a work been created specifically to raise money. “We’re excited,” Huggins said. “This is a first, as I understand it. People have a chance to make a 100% donation to the Red Cross and get something in return.”

Matsui had contributed artworks to such organizations as UNICEF while living in New York but says his charitable efforts came to a halt when he came to Orange County about 15 years ago. But when the highly publicized USA for Africa campaign began, Matsui’s interest in philanthropy was rekindled. And it was the plight of Bangladesh’s typhoon victims last May that finally spurred him into action.

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Matsui, born in Peking and raised in Japan, likes to combine the simplicity of Eastern art with modern Western approaches, and “Exanimo” emphasizes clean, simple lines while making the most of subtle lighting. The photo session for the poster lasted a day and a half, largely because of the lighting’s complexity.

Naming the work also proved no easy task. At one point the artists and local Red Cross officials were considering a list of 22 possible names, but Murray was not happy with any of them. While poring over lists of foreign words, he found exanimo . “I just kept searching for that one word, and it was just by chance that I found it,” Murray said. “Or maybe it wasn’t chance.”

Murray says he is pleased with the poster. “To me, every day I look at it it’s even stronger. It just exemplifies what people can do for each other.” He is especially heartened by the degree of industry cooperation that he and Matsui were able to solicit. “It just kind of makes you look at the world in a more positive light.”

The artists say they may undertake similar fund-raising projects in the future, although not exclusively for the Red Cross.

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