Dear old golden rule days

Inspired by years of teaching art to kids, Ann O’Lear creates School Days

“Apple for Teacher” by Ann O’Lear.

“Apple for Teacher” by Ann O’Lear.

Picasso once remarked that he spent his whole life trying to draw like a child.

“It’s really true,” says artist Ann O’Lear. “Kids, as they get older, are really inhibited, but little kids just jump right in there and say, ‘Let’s have fun.’ “

O’Lear would know. An artist-in-residence for Sierra Arts’ Arts and Education program, O’Lear visits elementary schools as a guest art teacher, bringing her own materials into schools that aren’t able to furnish classrooms with fancy art supplies.

“They love it,” O’Lear says. “They treat me like a hero. … They cheer me when I enter the room.”

O’Lear says that kids who don’t excel in school or aren’t exposed to the arts regularly are often thrilled to pick up a paintbrush.

“They blossom,” she says. “They really are able to do things that surprise themselves. … They get really excited when the colors red and blue come together. [They say], ‘I got purple!’ “

O’Lear’s exhibit School Days, now on display at Reno City Hall’s Metro Gallery, is inspired by her years of working with schoolchildren. Some of the pieces show students completely absorbed in play; others show students bent over their work in intense concentration. “Learning Curves” (gouache on paper) for instance, shows a child—it seems to be a boy—bowed over a desk. With echoes of Picasso’s classical period, the figure is rounded, with exaggerated limbs and bulbous hands. His moon-shaped face is divided into halves of different colors. The painting’s lines flow seamlessly into a network of curves, disrupted only by the sharp angle the child is drawing on paper.

Although most of O’Lear’s pieces are markedly absent of commentary on the scholastic world, “Apple for Teacher” is rife with symbolic imagery. It shows an oversized apple sitting on a desk. Behind the desk is a window that looks out onto an apple-bearing tree, with a serpent coiled around its trunk. To the right of the window is a picture of a man whose features are obscured by a big green apple—an image, she says, that is borrowed from Greek mythology. But even with its overt symbolism, O’Lear says that “Apple for Teacher” isn’t intended to convey any particular idea. She wanted to link various apple images, from Biblical to Greek to the modern apple-teacher cliché, and leave interpretation to the viewer.

"[With] a lot of these [pieces], the whole thing would just appear,” she says. “There’s a visionary type of thing to the work.”

O’Lear’s propensity to embrace the intuitive side of art suggests her ability to capture that childhood sense of wonder Picasso spoke of, that sense of innocence and awe many of us lost long ago.