Above, Brian Ramos and his mother, Maria Figueroa, proudly display his painting at an art exhibit by students at the Widney Career Preparatory and Transition Center.

Elondra Apparicio has gained self-confidence through her art and is ready to tackle other projects.

A glance at the spectacularly colored painting created by Brian Ramos is proof of the young man’s talent and the artistic skills he learned from teacher Aaron Samuel at the Widney Career Preparatory and Transition Center.

But the canvas is also a reflection of the resilience, social skills and self-confidence instilled in the students as they find the creativity within.

“Brian has grown a lot and is more focused because of the art he does for Mr. Samuel,” said Ramos’ mother, Maria Figueroa. “When he starts any project at his desk, he doesn’t want to get up until the assignment is completed and is as perfect as possible. I think the art class has taught him that.  I also want him to continue with art because he enjoys it, and I think he is talented.”

Ramos’ painting was among the more than 100 works of art – acrylic canvases, pen-and-ink drawings, pencil sketches, photography and mixed media – that were displayed this month during a special exhibit at the Fernando Rullum Community Art Center in Leimert Park. Family and friends crowded the gallery, “ooing” and “ahhing” their appreciation of the students’ hard work and artistic achievements. And the students themselves – who have cognitive, developmental and physical challenges – proudly described the inspiration and motivation for their creations.

“Art is like a portal to another dimension,” said student Brian Escamilla. “I feel free to be myself, and I’m not afraid to show it. It helped me express my inner talent. It’s an honor to see my work up here.”

The exhibit was organized by Samuel, who has taught at Widney for more than two decades. He saw the exhibit as the next logical step in the school’s graphic arts vocational strand – one of nearly a dozen that Widney offers to teach disabled young adults to live productively and independently.

Lourdes Gutierrez-Barrillas shows off her painting, “Flight.”

“Something about these kids, they really bring out the artist in me,” Samuel said. “I started with the District in 1978, when I was still a student at Los Angeles High School, and have worked with students at all levels while pursuing my love and career in art. But my Widney students have brought out the best in me. People didn’t know the skill level of some of my students.  Art has opened the floodgate for them and has given me a second life.”

Brian Escamilla calls art ‘a portal to another dimension.’

Lourdes Aguayo, another art teacher at Widney, shares Samuel’s vision for their students.

“With our population, art is an important piece in helping them express themselves,” she said.

Elondra Apparicio said Samuel unlocked the feeling of creativity that she first expressed when she began drawing as a youngster.

“It wasn’t until I met Aaron and he introduced me to paint that my work has developed more,” she said. “I didn’t know if I could do it by myself. Now I feel like I want to try the clarinet and the piano … I can play the instruments but I feel more confident that I can do it.”

She added with a smile, “I am quite talented.”

School Board Member Dr. George J. McKenna III attended the exhibit and expressed his admiration of the Widney students and his appreciation of their work.

“The beauty of art,” he said, “is that everyone can experience, interpret and enjoy it without  boundaries or limitations.”

Click here to see a KLCS-TV video of the Widney Career Preparatory and Transition Center art show.