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Saunders comes

There's something for everyone in the exhibit of works by San Francisco Bay Area artist Raymond Saunders soon to open at the Schneider Museum of Art in Ashland.

Aficionados of classical drawing and painting in the realist tradition will discover delicate but confident drawings of fruit, vessels and women carrying babies, along with exquisite paintings of fruit, vegetables and lushly colored tulip heads.

Those who prefer abstract expressionism will find bold strokes of yellow, red and electric blue done with a brush large enough to be a house painter's tool.

All of these elements can occur in a single work - along with found objects affixed to the canvas and paper collage.

Josine Ianco-Starrels, former Los Angeles Municipal Museum director and curator of the Saunders exhibit at the Schneider, said the artist has mastered a variety of artistic styles and fused them into a new and vibrant form.

"Sometimes people complain with abstract expressionism, 'My kid could do that.' But there is proof that he has great knowledge in the classical arts and drawing," Ianco-Starrels said. "If he was limited to that, it could become boring. using collage and bringing in the street, you have excitement and vitality and ebullience and energy."

Born in 1934 in Pittsburgh and recognized as a talented artist at a young age, Saunders draws from a lifetime of experience, his extensive travels and his work with children to create his paintings.

He joined the Carnegie Institute of Technology's fine arts program while still a teenager, and later went on to earn his MFA at the California College of Arts & Crafts in Oakland, Calif., where he is a professor today.

When visiting other countries, Saunders carries his sketchbook through the streets and markets, where he creates page after page of clean line drawings of women carrying their babies on their backs, rows of vessels in a myriad of shapes and other images of everyday life.

A visit to Mexico might yield a mirror with a hand-painted folk art frame that will find its way onto a canvas, while travels to China net calligraphic writing samples and squares of printed paper that also become part of his assemblages.

Ianco-Starrels, who has known Saunders for three decades, said he samples all the world has to offer.

"When you go out with him to a restaurant, he doesn't order an entree. He orders 16 appetizers," she said.

To lend order to the profusion of painting, drawing and found objects on a single canvas, he begins with field of black that unifies the work while allowing each element to glow from the dark background.

Saunders helps keep his work fresh by teaching art to children.

His collaborations with them can be seen in his watercolors and drawings done on paper that are being displayed along with the larger black canvases.

In a watercolor of an asparagus spear done by Saunders, the stalk is a tender green with a blush of lavender and orange at the base. In halting, block letters, a child has penciled in "ASPARAGUS."

The exhibit includes watercolors of a radish, kiwi, pepper, nectarine and other fruits and vegetables, all labeled by children.

Although paintings by the children are not on display, he celebrated their works by paying for the publication of a book featuring their art.

Like a child, Saunders absorbs images from the world and, like the veteran artist that he is, translates those images into sophisticated, multi-layered works that meld modern art with classical traditions.

"The mixture of elements is like a jazz musician doing variations on a melody — with a little piece of Mozart or Bach thrown in," Ianco-Starrels said.

The exhibit opens Tuesday, with an opening reception for the artist scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 8. The exhibit continues through Feb. 28.

The Schneider Museum is located on the Southern Oregon University campus on the corner of Siskiyou Boulevard and Indiana Street.

Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the first Friday of each month. There is a $2 suggested donation.to the Schneider