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Expressing Their Inner Visions in Paint and Clay

Developmentally disabled artists furnish a benefit show and sale with works of every shape and medium, helping to raise $10,000.

April 24, 2001|ADAM TSCHORN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Perched on a stool in a West Hollywood frame shop, Los Angeles artist James Bruce sat quietly dabbing his paintbrush on a palette of acrylic paints. Oblivious to the packed showroom around him, Bruce, 46, opened the pages of a National Geographic magazine and began to re-create a scene of two mountain bikers in bright yellow jerseys trekking up a hillside. From time to time Bruce looked up to add an occasional brush stroke to the two seascapes also sitting on the table in front of him. "I like to ride my bike to the beach and look at the ocean," he said. "And I get some ideas, then I sketch it first, then I paint it in."

Bruce was one of 100 developmentally disabled adult artists who contributed more than 300 pieces to the L.A.-based Exceptional Children's Foundation Art Center show and sale Friday.

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The show was a work of art itself--a swirling collage of color, a sea of batik banners, brightly painted ceramic plates and paintings in every color. Every piece had been painted, sculpted, sewn, glazed or glued by Art Center students, all of whom have developmental disabilities, including autism, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, emotional or psychiatric disorders. "This is art done by people who, in the main, have been considered discards in our society," said the Exceptional Children's Foundation's program director, Dr. Richard Webb-Msemaji. "But they are actually creative and functioning people doing great and wonderful things."

Bruce wasn't the only artist willing to share his source of inspiration. A plaster mask, "Big Red Machine," and a batik of Duane "The Rock" Johnson came from 25-year-old Hugh McPherson's interest in WWF wrestling. Paolo Forteza, a 22-year-old from the Philippines, said his mixed-media piece "Pokemaster" was sparked by his love of the Pokemon characters.

Many of the artists who contributed to the exhibit at the West Hollywood branch of the Aaron Brothers Art & Framing store were on hand. Willie K. Walls took the opportunity to escort some of the 300 patrons to the bin where his watercolors "Flowers" and "Miss Jane" could be found. Artist Cyd Robinson stood by a barrel of rolled batik banners pointing out the gingerbread-type figures she had created.

A lot of the pieces were humorous. Tom Brown's blue batik banner featured a surfing Gumby hanging 10 on a big wave. One of Deveron A. Richard's painted ceramic serving dishes depicted a mermaid in a prom dress; another depicted large-uddered cows marching through the heavens on their hind legs. Erik Yates' red and orange mixed-media bottles and boxes were decorated with snippets of words and phrases including something that looked suspiciously like the words "Brady Bunch."

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Prices ranged from $2 for a painted bookmark to $800, the winning bid for Tony Brown's painting "Come See the Stars Shine." The show raised about $10,000; artists kept 60% of the proceeds, with the balance benefiting the center.

Recent East Coast-to-West Hollywood transplant Shane McConnell, himself an artist, took home two decorated portfolio books, a stuffed horse and a stuffed abstract doll. He was so taken with the Art Center exhibit that before leaving he offered his services. "Maybe I'll even teach," he said, handing Webb-Msemaji his business card.

Artist Paolo Forteza summed up the night's good vibes. When asked how it felt to sell his paintings, he threw his arms around his sister Cheri and brother Carlos and said, "I feel rich."

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