Students paint masterpieces on unlikely canvas

Sunday, May 25, 2003

You can bet Diego Rivera's "Girl With Lilies," Vincent Van Gogh's "The Starry Night" and Johannes Vermeer's "The Girl with the Pearl Earring" have never been exhibited anywhere near a garbage can.

Their grandeur earns them primo spots at the best museums in the world.

But a group of Central Junior High ninth-graders has used these and other masterworks of painting to transform trash -- well, trash cans -- into treasure.

The project provided an artful solution to a not-so-attractive problem at Central: "Our school kind of gets trashed because we don't have trash cans anywhere," said Lisa Clipsham, Central's art teacher.

So the student council fronted money to buy 23 corrugated metal trash cans, and Clipsham gave her ninth-grade art students a list of famous painters and their most well-known works. For the next three weeks, the students pored over their garbage receptacles, reproducing the widely recognizable paintings in striking detail and with remarkable adherence to the originals.

The trash cans, which bear paintings first conceived by the likes of M.C. Escher, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Joan Miro, Andy Warhol and Georgia O'Keefe, will find permanent homes in the school's hallways.

Clipsham decided to have her students mimic the masters rather than dream up their own designs to focus the assignment and teach the students time-tested techniques.

"When I have kids just design 'something,' I think it's too open and overwhelming," she said. If they're copying a successful artist, "It always teaches you about mixing color, technique, brush work ... And any time they're successful, it makes them feel better about themselves."

Marshall Rake and Charlie Naramore chose to reproduce Rene Magritte's "The Son of Man," which depicts an anonymous man wearing a suit and hat, standing in front of a stone wall with a bright green apple covering his face.

"It's a cool picture," Rake said. Our version "looks a lot better from a distance," because you can see the shadows and variations. "It's very true to the painting."

The project is "a really good idea," he said. "A lot of other schools are very bland."

But the walls at Central brim with murals and framed artwork the school has purchased from students through the years.

"It shows a lot about our school," Rake said.

A Vermeer adorns the trash can created by Cooper Farr and Alison King.

"I like her smile," Farr said of "The Girl with the Pearl Earring."

Farr also liked the idea that her trash can would be around Central long after she's gone.

"I think it's a very good idea," she said. "It's nice to give back to the school."