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BOYLE HEIGHTS : Artistic Talent Blooms at Academy

Juan Solis stood back from the mural he had been working on and shook his head. But it wasn’t a disapproving look.

“I can’t believe it,” Solis said smiling. “I like it. When you’re working from (right in front of the painting) you don’t see it until you move back a little.”

The blend of pale and dark colors was the work of students in the Academia de Arte Yepes, a free art academy started in December for youth throughout Los Angeles County.

The students are completing “Harvest of the American Dream,” an 8-by-32-foot mural that shows Latino farm workers planting seeds, construction workers on their way to work, a girl at a computer and a boy holding up the American eagle. In the background are a silhouette of an eagle, the red, white and blue of the American flag, the Capitol and City Hall.

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The painting, one of several that will be donated to nonprofit organizations, will hang in the El Sereno Youth Center, which is expected to be built by 1996.

The academy, funded in part by a grant from the California Arts Council, enrolls 39 students who meet three times a week at Salesian High School, said artist and founder George Yepes. The tough regimen has whittled the group of regular students to about 19, he said.

“We start from the basic sketches and from there we get the idea for the painting,” he said. “But this is where they really work. Here, they can learn from their mistakes.”

They come in paint-splattered sweat shirts and listen to Lola Beltran belt out Mexican favorites from a jam box. Their studio is a large, cement-floored, bright room that some professional artists would envy.

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Pencil drawings of a mural destined for the Cal State Los Angeles student union hang from plywood boards erected for the class to examine its work. A carpenter saws and hammers while the students add touches to the mural.

Abel Gonzalez, 10, thoughtfully brushes on a deep blue to the cloak of an angel and then to a construction worker’s shirt a few feet away.

“I just look at it and see if it looks good,” he said.

Miramonte Elementary School teacher Ana Zavala, one of several teachers who trades off driving three of the school’s students to the academy, said the teachers are happy to make the trip from South El Monte as long as the children are interested.

“We figure if they were lucky enough to make it in, we’ll make the effort to get them here,” she said. “It’s a good opportunity for those kids who do well in art to see art as a career.”

Jenny Anaya, 11, had never painted before being accepted to the academy. She admits she was initially apprehensive, but said Yepes assured her that mistakes could be painted over.

“He gives you confidence if you mess up,” she said, her long hair tied back to avoid dipping it in paint.

“Wow! This is great! It’s perfect!” yelled Yepes as he watched another student work on City Hall.

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“See?” Jenny said. “I’m learning everything. Now I know how he does it.”

Information: (213) 261-7124.


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