Many of these painting make me laugh out loud in joy and delight—Mark’s Rake Tree, Julie’s Rainbow Butterflies Dancing, Anna’s Fancy Dress Cupcake Ball; others draw out a certain sadness or even grief—such as Joe’s This Is the Way Friends Used to Be. All are fairly vibrating with life, as was the Green Door restaurant this evening, where H’Art’s most recent show opened.
The artists greeted friends, supporters, collectors, and strangers, welcoming each one into the circle of creativity and community created by their bright colours and bold imaginings. A creative community built for artists with developmental disabilities, honouring their way of seeing and being in the world, and giving them a space to share their vision, and themselves, with the wider artistic and urban community of which they are an integral part.
Jessie is lucky to have snagged a spot at H’Art this year. While her primary medium is dance, she has participated in H’Art during the summer or on school breaks (it is tailored to adult artists) almost since its inception in 2002 (with original funding funneled through the local Down syndrome association). When a regular spot came up this fall (Fridays), Jessie was excited and determined to make it fit in her schedule. I have to admit, this surprised me. I’ve never really pegged Jessie as a visual artist (I know, I know, so many individuals with Down syndrome are visual learners and communicators, but, as with many other so-called typical traits, this one didn’t seem to be attached to Jessie’s extra 23rd, —in fact, she was assessed as an auditory learner early on. Although that doesn’t quite explain why she doesn’t listen to me. Or, maybe it does!) As a child she loved to paint and glue (or, let’s be honest, loved to squeeze out the paint and the glue, I think it was more of a sensory thing), but even with paint and other materials within easy reach, as she matured she rarely chose crafts or painting or even pencil and line drawing as an activity. It was (and is.) mostly dance and writing.
But I think that being in an artistic/creative environment, where self-expression is honoured, encouraged, and celebrated [see this post about disability and art], offers Jessie a kind of freedom to be that is rarely found in other spaces. For many of the other artists, who, like Jessie may have been bound by preconceptions and imposed limits, the studio has become a very special, safe, and exciting place to explore and share their perceptions of the world around them. For some, the studio is a safe harbour, for others it is their calling.
So now Jessie goes to the studio every Friday, spending the morning exploring themes, journaling, being supported in the creative process, and the afternoon prepping her canvas and painting, working with other artists, some of whom have exceptional talent and are willing to mentor those just beginning. And tonight was the opening of this year’s fall show, and once again the art invited me to slow down, look, and be infused with a kind of joy and respect and wonder that is at the heart of all true art. It will feed my soul for months to come.
What art programs are out there in your community? How are artists with disabilities included in the creative community where you live?
The H’Art show, Moon Is Laughing Gas, is at the Green Door Restaurant in Ottawa, October 1–27, 2012.