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EXPRESS LINES : 'Every Picture Tells a Story' About the Feelings Shared by Schoolchildren and Adults

March 24, 1994|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for the Times Orange County Edition.

Paint-by-number sets were big when I was young, although frankly between the eye strain and those thimble-sized tubs of paint that either ran out or dried out halfway through the project, I was never all that wild about them.

Still, when every color had been dabbed in its appointed space, there was a nice payoff when the adults gathered 'round to admire my work: Look at this, honey! Can this kid stay inside the lines or what?

Today, it's unlikely a parent would respond the same way. Child-development experts and countless parenting books have changed the way most of us think, or least think we should think, about a child's artwork. The focus has shifted away from technical ability to self-expression. If our budding artist wants to make a tree fuchsia instead of green, current thinking tells us we should support him all the way.

If you're a product of the paint-by-numbers generation, this progressive thinking may be hard to adopt, but a new exhibit (through May 22) at the Irvine Fine Arts Center could help. Titled "Every Picture Tells a Story: An Exhibition About Feeling Awareness," the collection features visual art by schoolchildren and adults that, in the view of IFAC curator of exhibitions Dorrit Rawlins, demonstrates how art goes beyond something that is pleasing to the eye to act as a vehicle for all ages to identify their feelings and communicate them with others.

Rather than segregating the children's work from the adults', Rawlins has intermingled the generations in her display, grouping them instead by themes, which she explains in brief essays mounted alongside the works. (It's somewhat ironic that Rawlins should take such a semi-structured approach in displaying and explaining the works, considering the intent of the show. However, because the essays are directed toward adults and teen-agers, they can be interpreted for younger children in whatever way the reader feels most comfortable.)

An example: On a card titled "Windows to Feelings," Rawlins discusses how the window is used as a symbol for the way humans process feelings ("We look out of, into and through the world through feelings"). Near by are works by youngsters from the William Lyon School at the Orangewood children's home. Each piece is divided into four panels depicting different facial expressions, ranging from cheery to angry to hauntingly detached. Alongside, an adult artist displays a small, glass-paned door with one pane shattered and the words "Please Don't Tell Mom" neatly lettered on the frame.

Rawlins said that by intermingling children's and adults' works, she hopes to illustrate how each generation of artist can borrow positive elements from the other.

"The works here just seem to play off each other well, too," she continued. "Together, they remind us how important it is not to think of art as an object; it's an experience, a conduit to the aesthetic part of who we are that can really get squelched in contemporary society."

In one case, that exchange led to a collaboration that produced "Tom the Cat," a series of paintings by professional artist Lau Haaning inspired by cartoon drawings of the same name by teen-ager Carman Bibbo.

Bibbo's panels, which mostly focus on a superhero-style cat kicking tush on a razor-toothed dog named Bulldozer, influenced Haaning's pieces featuring the character in fantasy situations. Haaning also exhibits two other works that are intentionally more disturbing and depict childlike characters under extreme stress.

Other works, however, have a gentler spirit.

On Saturday, March 26, IFAC will host two special Youth Art Days in conjunction with the show. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., sessions in kite-making, kaleidoscopes and clay, as well as ethnic dance and music are planned for 4- to 9-year-olds at IFAC. (On-site registration begins at 9 a.m.)

Next door at the Youth Services Center, workshops in visual art and poetry will be presented from 1 to 5 p.m. for high school students, in a program co-sponsored by the Irvine Youth Action Team. No preregistration is necessary.

What: "Every Picture Tells a Story: An Exhibition About Feeling Awareness."

When: Through May 22. Hours: noon to 9 p.m. Monday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Irvine Fine Arts Center, 14321 Yale Ave., in Heritage Park.

Whereabouts: From the Santa Ana (5) Freeway, exit at Culver and drive south. Turn left on Walnut and left on Yale.

Wherewithal: Free.

Where to call: (714) 552-1078 or (714) 552-1018.

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