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Program Turns to Young Blood

Art and Invention Are Unleashed From Pupils in Imagination Celebration Special Exhibit


You usually find this type of art in the kitchen--exhibited by proud parents, mounted with magnets, and framed by bills and shopping lists. But some has leaped from the fridge to the museum.

As part of the Imagination Celebration, works by students from four Santa Ana elementary schools are on display at the Orange County Museum of Art's satellite gallery at South Coast Plaza.

The exhibit, "Major Art/Minor Artists," showcases work by third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students selected for a special-study program. The students, chosen for their potential artistic achievement, come from regular and special-education programs at Jackson, Harvey, Sepulveda and Thorpe elementary schools.

In the course of 16 weeks, two artists--Helen Seigel and Sheryl Michelon--taught them about art theory, composition and technique. They also studied paintings by Picasso, Jasper Johns and Magritte.

They learned their lessons well. One student's tribute to the Belgian master Magritte: "Este no es un taco." (This is not a taco.) And how about this nouveau dadaist title: "Giant Pig Back Ridin' Rainbow Maker."

The two pictures are part of a collective work in the show titled "Curtain of Dreams." After studying Magritte, the children painted surreal pictures that were then made into color transparencies and displayed on a clear shower curtain.

"I tell the students it's a free field trip--a travel in your imagination," said Seigel, one of the program's two artist/teachers.

Seigel, who has taught the program for more than two decades, gives students concrete assignments to further their creative thinking. Art programs have to go beyond playing with clay. And the assignments can help develop the students' problem-solving skills, thereby benefiting them in other educational areas, she said.

"It's not just a fluffy, feel-good [art program]," Seigel said. "What we have is really strong, and the kids really need it."

In one school, Seigel gave the children disposable black-and-white cameras to record their lives. And the results varied from the lively--a friend playing hoops--to the abstract--a wristwatch on a stool, and a frying pan on a stove.

After photographing their surroundings, the students' pasted their pictures into used textbooks and wrote accompanying texts, in the form of poetry or expository writing. As one student wrote: "As soon as I took my first picture, my life was better."

In a series of collage self-portraits inspired by Frida Kahlo, students painted pictures of themselves with their dreams projected in boxes on their foreheads. (Surprise--more than one student painted a pop star.)

The children worked in a variety of media--including wire, clay, wood, oil painting and photography--and created pictures for the show that effectively mixed the mundane and the magical. Like portraits of fabled animals or the "No Plain Pets" poetry: "My jelly fish flows, / and when I ride it, it glows." And: "My Whale has a lot of snails sticking to his back. / He wears them like a hat in a stack."

Leonardo da Vinci would be impressed. There are also drawings of inventions--such as the "Super Electronic Thinking Machine," which spews mathematical answers after being fed pizza, doughnuts and burgers.

A couple of Alexander Calder-inspired modules flank the entrance to the show and their title, "Circus," sums up the exhibit--a show filled with fantasy and magic.

* "Major Art/Minor Artists" will continue through June 25 at the Orange County Museum of Art's satellite gallery at the South Coast Plaza, 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa. Hours: Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Free.

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