Most basketball players showcase their talents on the court, but Cardell Walker has also been displaying some of his skills in the lobby at Fairfax High School.
Walker, a 6-5 senior forward-center on a team that is widely regarded as one of the best in the nation, is also a promising artist at the Fairfax Magnet Center for the Visual Arts. His paintings and drawings were recently exhibited at the school's annual open house.
He is not a starter and this is his first year on the varsity. But he averaged 14 points and eight rebounds a game as a junior varsity player for the last two years.
Starting this year will be what is probably the best front line in the city: senior forwards Sean Higgins and J. D. Green and junior center Chris Mills.
But Walker, who turned 17 in October, will be the first big man off the bench for Coach Harvey Kitani. Quite an accomplishment for someone who had not played any organized basketball until he entered Fairfax as a sophomore.
If he came to basketball late, he came to art early. He said that he began drawing when he was 3 and that his mother Carol, a graphic artist with an architectural firm, saved his early work.
She may have found promise in his first drawings. He is not so sure.
"I think it's kind of funny," he said. "I look at things I did before, and they don't look good. I can see things I did wrong."
His recent work, however, is apparently more to his liking because he recently asked school officials if he could exhibit some of it in the school lobby. "I just wanted to display my work. I was proud of it," Walker said.
Art teacher Ilana Tauber said that although Walker asked for the exhibition, "he would have had it if he didn't ask. He felt really goodabout the work he was doing and wanted to share it with the school."
The paintings and drawings are mostly of human heads and figures. Thoug many of them are self-portraits, few could be categorized as traditional.
In one of the self-portraits, the figure is elongated and stands isolated in a corner. On first glance, it looks something like the Frankenstein monster.
In another, there are two Walkers, one wearing glasses and one without. Both look grim.
In other works, heads are without hair, noses are attenuated, mouths are either tight-lipped or open wide as if howling in pain.
"I like heads because they're the most interesting part of the body," said Walker, who began painting last year. "They have different features and there's more to distort, to make it look weird, to switch around."
He said the figure in the corner is, indeed, himself, and that it is "distorted to make it look big because I'm tall and have a flat-top haircut. A couple of people have said it looked like the Frankenstein monster."
He painted the two heads, he said, "because I started wearing glasses this year, and I'm always insecure about my need for glasses, for school work, painting and writing."
However, he does seem secure about his art. Tauber said it "has a wonderful, natural flow. I think that what he's got a lot of kids don't have at that age. He really puts himself out in the open and reveals himself. He kind of bares his soul, which is really hard, and he's comfortable with it."
She said his work "is about isolation, and this may be interpretive, about people as viewed and controlled by others."
Walker said other students who have seen the exhibit have told him that if they didn't know Walker, they would consider him "a weird person, distraught and down all the time."
"But I'm not," Walker said. "I'm very active. I try to think of stuff that will get to people and make them think about things. I want them to feel that it's not just another picture like a landscape, but to try and figure out what it means."
It wasn't hard for Coach Kitani and last year's junior varsity coach, Andy Fujitsubo, to figure out a cartoon that Walker gave them last year. That drawing revealed Walker's lighter side.
Kitani said the drawing "was a caricature of him (Walker) and two other players on the bench. One player was sitting next to the coaches, and he was thinking, 'When is Coach Kitani going to put me in?'
"I thought it was original and pretty funny. Another player put it up on the bulletin board that year, and all the kids got a big kick out of it."
Kitani also has been impressed with Walker's work on a basketball court, particularly because he hasn't played the game for very long.
"He has worked very hard and improved his game tremendously from his junior year," Kitani said. "There were many games last year when he was the leading scorer for the jayvee team.
"This summer a lot of our varsity players were involved in games and camps, and he did very well and was our leading scorer a few times (in summer league games).
"He never played organized ball till he got here. He's got so many interests, and he hasn't spent the time playing basketball like some of our other players. But he's got the skills, and he's going to help us this year"