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THE BEST...THE BEAUTIFUL...AND THE BIZARRE | EX-UTERO
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Art for the Neonate

June 21, 1998|Ed Leibowitz

Before they ever glimpse the walls of their bedrooms at home or the flickering purple balm of Barney, babies born at Glendale Memorial Hospital will behold their first artwork: a 3-by-6-foot tableau of joyous parents and grandparents--Latino and Asian, black and white--doting on a next generation in swaddling clothes. Premiered this past Friday, "The Colors of Love" is a painting realized in the ripened cadmium oils that artist Synthia Saint James usually favors. "I got to choose the spot for it," says Saint James of the painting's favorable location, the wall opposite the nursery of the hospital's Newborn Intensive Care Unit. "It's nice to come into the world with bright colors."

In her Los Feliz studio, Saint James, 49, has also conceived multicultural art for a public further along in life. She's working on her 10th children's book; she illustrated the dust jacket for Terry McMillan's "Waiting to Exhale," one of more than 40 book covers she has painted; and those Glendale Memorial newborns may feel a frisson of deja vu a quarter century from now as they wait for their suitcases at Ontario International Airport, only to notice "Diversity," the 150-foot-long Saint James installation that will soon soar above the baggage carousel.

Saint James' tiniest work is still her most widely circulated: the 32-cent Kwanzaa stamp, with its African American family in profile carrying fruit and gifts. Although her friends still send her envelopes bearing the stamp, Saint James refrains. "I don't want to toot my own horn," she says. "And I'm also hoarding them."

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