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Showing true colors

Special-needs student, teacher collaborate for Davis art show

BOUNTIFUL — Brandi Bixler will start her senior year at Woods Cross High School later this month. She adores Zac Efron ("High School Musical") and loves music and dance. She is bubbly, energetic and slightly bashful.

And she is also a talented artist with her own art exhibition.

Oh, and one more thing, Bixler has Down syndrome.

With other special education students at Woods Cross this past school year, Bixler took Lester Lee's art class.

In Bixler, Lee recognized a student with an eye for color and the skill to execute it.

Although an art educator for 22 years, Lee has never signed his name alongside a student on a collaborative piece of art.

But that changed quickly when Lee saw the high caliber of Bixler's natural skill.

Bixler's art projects began as drawings of popular culture icons. But Lee noticed Bixler's talent with color and started creating designs for her to color.

"Her use of color is so innate and immediate. I don't know how else to explain it, but you get an aesthetic experience," Lee said.

Bixler giggled as she pointed out her favorite works during a recent interview with the Deseret News.

Among her favorite pieces are ones that were painted with her friends in mind.

Each painting is a vibrant representation of fine abstract technique.

"Her art rivals someone who is deep in nonobjective art," Lee said.

The designs are simple shapes, brought to life by Bixler's paint choices.

"I never prompted her," said Lee, referring to the coloring in the paintings. "My only promptings come with the design."

"Deep Sea Pizza" is a darkly colored piece using triangles — aptly named because the triangles look like slices of pizza submerged underwater.

Brandi's self-portrait combines a balance of bright and dull colors in moving contrast.

The paintings are a combination of oil and acrylic, some with mixed elements such as crayon.

Bold, primary colors are used in a piece of spiral circles set in a grid, making for a piece parallel to any other abstractionist.

Bixler's greatest challenge of working is stopping once the painting is complete.

"She likes a lot of color and all of the white spaces filled," Lee said.

Once Bixler has painted a piece from Lee's original design, Lee will sometimes add other elements to the piece to balance weight or other design principles.

Bixler's mother, Lezlie Mann, said she was unaware of her daughter's artistic eye.

"I was shocked because I've always called it doodling," Mann said.

"It took someone like Lester Lee to see the genius," said Emma Dugal, curator and executive director of the Bountiful Davis Art Center, where the teacher and student have an exhibition now showing.

"Lester has been a great mentor to her (Bixler)," Dugal said.

The relationship between Bixler and Lee also has greatly influenced Lee's personal work.

"Brandi has had a compelling influence on Lester," Dugal said.

Lee is a premier watercolor and oil painter and has been showcased at the Bountiful Davis Art Center on multiple occasions.

Lee agrees his journey with Bixler has stretched his own artistic ventures.

"I'm a replicast — I've never passed over to this nonobjectve realm. It took Brandi to get me there," he said.

Lee credits Bixler's insatiable energy for making their work a success.

"I'm the discoverer, not the teacher," Lee said.

Lee's reputation for being an outstanding educator has grown over the years.

In 2006, Lee was one of 10 awarded the Jon Huntsman Award for Excellence in Education. That same year, Lee was named teacher of the year by the Utah Arts Education Association.

The duo will present an exhibition, corresponding with the Bountiful Davis Art Center's Summerfest, which is already under way and runs through Aug. 28.

During Summerfest Aug. 6-8, Lee and Bixler will demonstrate their techniques.

Lee was selected as the featured artist for Summerfest, and Bixler has been named as the festival's emerging artist.

"She (Bixler) is so delightful. She just makes you so happy," Dugal said.

Bixler and Lee are in the process of selling their pieces with charity in mind.

Bixler is a participant of the Special Olympics and wants to share the money with the organization she loves.

The pieces are inexpensive, ranging between $50 and $200. Some have already been claimed by those involved in the exhibition.

Lee and Bixler will continue their collaboration for additional projects when school begins again.

If you go

What: Lester Lee and Brandi Bixler art exhibition

Where: Bountiful Davis Art Center, 745 S. Main, Bountiful

When: Show runs through Aug. 28

Monday 5:00 - 9:00 p.m.

Tuesday - Friday 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Saturday 2:00 - 5:00 p.m.

Closed Sunday

How much: Free

Web: www.bdac.org

e-mail: jnicholls@desnews.com