‘"Now and Tomorrow"’

Local Arts Reviews

Exhibitionism

"Now and Tomorrow"

Creative Research Laboratory, through June 19

In seventh grade, I covered my homeroom notebook with baroque hearts and cryptic initials. I spent an admirable amount of class time perfecting 3-D cubes and block letters. I could doodle an identifiable rose, a cartoon sailboat, and the outline of a swan. And I could do the Rush logo. For me, that was art.

For the grade-school students whose work is in Creative Research Laboratory's "Now and Tomorrow" exhibit, art is clearly a different matter. These works were created by pre-K through 12th-grade kids in Austin area schools through ArtTouch, an outreach program of UT's Department of Art & Art History in which it partners with school art teachers to lead students in nonlinear creative exercises relating to everyday experiences. I don't know what these exercises entail, but they've yielded some truly fantastic pieces that belie the ages and experience levels of their creators.

Because the artists' ages cover such a wide range, the pieces are terrific in broadly different ways. Those by the youngest artists are charmingly unpredictable, offering momentary insight into the wildly inventive minds of their fledgling creators. The ceramic action figures by second-graders demonstrate this especially well. Alfred Galvan's Discoman, a blue and gold doll bursting with disco magic, is designed to be made of "plastic and solid gold" and sold for $4,000 under the slogan "Little Children Out of Site." Jayden Mata's CyberMan I has an unusual origin: "MLK's friend drew [the toy's design] and accidentally sent it to another magical computer," where it was printed. That's how it gained its power to "fight for peace between different people." The show's portrait series for first through fifth graders revels in the same spontaneity, with pieces forsaking symmetry and codified color palettes for unusually expressive alternatives (as in second-grader Anja Thompson's carefully shaded, windblown pencil drawing and fifth-grader Mariel Potter's warm, unsmiling portrait in paints).

The older kids' work stuns somewhat differently. A series of mixed-media self-portraits by Bailey Middle School students offers glimpses into each artist's individual persona: Each piece expresses its creator's self-image through the media used (watercolor, newspaper print, photography, text) as well as the method of its application.

In terms of craft, however, the high school students shine the brightest. A series of black-and-white prints, with themes ranging from anorexia (Cynthia Tejeda) to wildlife (Nayelli Puga and Castelan Ermelindo) to Aztec civilization (John Aguilar), knocked my socks off with its precise beauty. The self-portrait collages by Reagan High School students were also beautifully constructed, demonstrating a clear sense of identity and mature self-awareness on the part of the artists.

Nearly every piece in this show is arresting or surprising in some way. This isn't "kid's art" of the type sometimes seen in school halls, in which the creators have clearly been expected to stick close to a predesigned template and turn out a stiflingly specific result. The young people here appear to have been pushed to explore their uniqueness, to stretch the boundaries of their budding visions. The show reminds us that kids have wildly unique, complex perspectives well worth our interest and an unexpected capability to bring those views to life.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Creative Research Laboratory, ArtTouch, UT Department of Art & Art History, Alfred Galvan, Jayden Mata, Anja Thompson, Mariel Potter

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