It's a sunny morning at Santa Ana's Rancho Santiago College. A handsome Latino leans against a wall, a half-smile on his face as he surveys the passing scene. Nearby, two Asian-American girls bend their heads together in animated conversation. Around them, students from every ethnic group hurry to their next class.
In the college art gallery, this scene of cultural diversity is mirrored in "Above All Others: The Best from Orange County High Schools' Fine Arts Students," a collection of paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography and ceramics by students in nine Orange County high schools. The exhibit continues through Saturday.
The student artists are Vietnamese, Filipino, Korean, Latino, black and white, and scattered among the usual cadre of nature scenes and still lifes are works that reflect the ever-changing face of Orange County.
Claudia Martinez, a senior at Santa Ana High School, created an untitled watercolor, in muted tones, featuring a smiling Mexican youth whose dark eyes seem to regard the viewer with friendly interest. In "Mask," Nhu Nguyen, a senior at Garden Grove's Bolsa Grande High School, presents a brilliantly colored mask similar to those used in Asian theater. "Madame Butterfly," a pastel by Leslie Allen, a senior at Foothill High School in Santa Ana, portrays the serenity and grace of traditional Japanese dance.
According to gallery assistant director Christie DuVall, "Above All Others" is the first exhibit for high school students sponsored by the college. Organizers hope to make it an annual event.
"High school kids are doing some incredible work," DuVall said. "We've always wanted to recognize local students, and this gives us a chance to honor their abilities while letting them see what the college has to offer."
In organizing the show, members of the college's art department invited entries from high schools countywide. Although it is not a juried exhibit, three students were awarded $50 scholarships for art classes at the college, and a fourth received a gift certificate from a local art store. Eleven honorable-mention awards also were given.
Heather Hall, a junior at Lutheran High School of Orange County, earned the Nealley Alumni Group Award for "Spring Iris," a watercolor of two blooming irises in shades of blues and dark rose. Chancellor's Award winner Sarah Shaw, a senior at Foothill, portrays an emerald-eyed woman in tiger stripes in her pastel "Xanadu." In "Karim (Skylook)," Jeff McAteer, a sophomore at Garden Grove's Santiago High School, juggles our sense of perspective in pen and ink.
Glen Land, a senior at El Modena High School in Orange, earned the Division Dean's Award for "All Around America," a photo collage of a seemingly endless Amtrak train.
Other pieces include "The Dancers," a free-form hanging sculpture of coat hangers and foam sealant by El Modena senior David Jacobs, and "Soon," an ink pointillist work by Foothill senior Patricia Ting, in which a young girl with an expression wise beyond her years peers suspiciously at the viewer from behind her tousled hair.
Also participating in "Above All Others" were high school students from Valley, Mountain View and Saddleback high schools in Santa Ana.
"Above All Others: The Best from Orange County High Schools' Fine Art Students" continues through Saturday in the Rancho Santiago College Art Gallery, 17th and North Bristol streets in Santa Ana. Located on the ground floor of the Humanities Building, the gallery is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is free. For information, call (714) 667-3173.