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Beyond Finger-Paints : ‘Color It Orange’ Shows How Young Artists Use Kaleidoscope of Topics, Techniques, Media

Many people remember grade-school art class as a blur of finger-paints and macaroni-trimmed cigar boxes; a time when creative expression was measured by the number of paper cups full of paint you spattered on your jeans, and artistic content was limited to the folks, the house (with requisite curlicues of chimney smoke) and the occasional unflattering portrait of your sister.

Judging from the nearly 500 works displayed in “Color It Orange,” the 15th annual countywide art competition sponsored by the Art Institute of Southern California (AISC) in Laguna Beach, today’s young artists are more sophisticated.

The exhibit, which fills the art school’s main gallery as well as the next two studios, showcases a kaleidoscope of topics, techniques and media used by county students, grades kindergarten to 12. The show runs through Friday.

According to Nancy Lawrence of Designing Women, the AISC support group that coordinates the show, more than 3,500 entries from students in 214 public, private and special education schools were considered for the exhibit. Jurors were artists Marlo Bartels, whose architectural ceramics are featured in the Laguna Art Museum, and Charlotte Myers, founder and past president of the Orange County Contemporary Art Assn.

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Ten AISC scholarships valued at $250 each and 80 honorable-mention certificates were awarded Saturday at a special artists’ reception at the gallery.

“We saw such a high level of quality in (this year’s) entries,” Lawrence said, “that it was difficult to choose the final exhibitors. If you went through a selection of the work that isn’t shown, you could make five more shows of this size of really wonderful work.”

Lawrence, who conducted the competition for the first 5 years, said the entries in each succeeding show have demonstrated a kind of evolution in children’s art that is a tribute to both the student and the teacher.

“There is a tremendous amount of talent in Orange County,” said Lawrence, who taught a series of children’s art classes at AISC. “The initial response to this kind of show would be to compliment the teaching because a lot of what you see here wouldn’t be done spontaneously by the students.

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“But you can also see that the lessons challenge the student. It doesn’t come out a cookie-cutter thing. It causes them to grow and allows their individuality to come through. Teachers and children are exploring more and more each year. And our own perspective on what is considered art is changing as well.”

In selecting the pieces to be shown, Lawrence said the judges looked for “something that demonstrated talent, creative thinking, a sense of humor . . . something more in terms of the artist, rather than art instruction.”

Aside from a few practical restrictions on weight and size, virtually any type of two- or three-dimensional artwork could be submitted. The resulting collection ranges from simple watercolors--such as the cheerful “Purple Cow” by kindergartner Luis Duran of Westminster’s Carillo School--to “Mexican Gold,” an Aztec-themed work in embossed paper and gold leaf by Juan Gutierrez of Valley High School in Santa Ana.

The exhibit shows that art lessons in today’s grade school and high school classrooms are no longer limited to simple crafts and watercolors. Even in the primary grades, students delve into the study of architectural shapes, perspective and figure and contour drawing. In the upper grades, there are explorations in photo-realism, print-making, stained glass and photography.

In “Studio,” scholarship winner Jane Keum, a senior at Irvine High School, used a pointillism technique to create a detailed ink rendering of an artist at work. Third-grader Christianna Sorensen of Anaheim’s Benito Juarez School showed off her sense of modified contour in “From Behind.” And Phong Yu of Fountain Valley’s Urbain Plavan School demonstrated his ability with paper mosaic in portraits of Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

Themes advanced beyond the usual, as well. Second-grader Anne Crawfin of Isojiro Oka School in Huntington Beach paid tribute to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in her pencil drawing; and Alphonso Nguyen, a second-grade student at Westminster’s Susan B. Anthony School ponders the technology of tomorrow in his “City of the Future.” Jose Fuentes, an eighth-grader in the Marco Forster School in San Juan Capistrano, captured a slice of urban life in colored pencil: a low-rider’s car displayed proudly against a wall splashed with graffiti.

Proving that “serious” art does not have to be somber, “Pet Cows,” a photo collage by Sabha Ganai, an eighth-grader at St. Margaret’s School in San Juan Capistrano, shows an unlikely group of bovines and a serene matron taking tea in a proper drawing room.

And in her photograph “Mummified,” scholarship winner Samantha Knight, a senior at El Toro High School, tickled the judges’ funny bones by picturing a young girl peeping out from a mummy-like swath of bathroom tissue.

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“Color It Orange” will be on exhibit through Friday at the Art Institute of Southern California, 2222 Laguna Canyon Road in Laguna Beach. Admission is free. Field trips, which include a hands-on art class and a tour of the exhibit, can be arranged through the institute. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Information: (714) 497-3309.


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