Cerebrum Article

Art on the Spectrum

Published: October 15, 2020
Author: Seimi Rurup

To the individual, art is an endeavor of skill and imagination, but in its broader sense, it is a form of communication. These works were made by artists who practice art not only as a creative outlet or pastime, but as a mode of self-expression when verbal communication is limited. Featured in various New York exhibitions, these artworks are part of the permanent collection of gallery265, a space founded by The Arc Westchester to offer a unique perspective into the personalities of artists with developmental disabilities. Since opening in 2009, gallery265 has had 24 rotations and a permanent collection composed of 87 pieces by 25 artists.

The Arc Westchester is a nonprofit organization that provides support for more than 2,000 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and its gallery provides opportunities for artists to develop their talents alongside a community where artistic expression is cultivated and supported.

“Big Deal” (5′ x 8′) • Acrylic and adhesive vinyl letters

Alex Masket’s artistic abilities became clear early on, at age two. Alex, 33, has severe autism and is unable to communicate verbally with others. Alex uses art to express himself through the use of bold colors, typography, shape, and form. At first glance, his mixed media collages may seem random or disordered, an aesthetic akin to action painting (a style made popular in the 1950s that defined artists such as Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline). But if you take a closer look, it becomes clear that his work is made with great intent and precision. His artwork has been displayed in galleries and sold commercially over the years, and was the focus of an award-winning, short documentary by Dennis Connors called “Breaking Boundaries: the Art of Alex Masket,” which can be found on sproutflix.org.

“Lady Gaga,” Art pencil and chalk

Antoine Hawkins is 30 years old and living with autism. When he was a toddler, he discovered a love for drawing and has continued to make artwork since. Over the years, Antoine has collected hundreds of images clipped from newspapers, magazines, or sourced from the internet. He draws inspiration from these images and recreates them incorporating his own artistic style. According to his family, Antoine is happiest when sharing his artwork with family and friends. His work has been displayed in local art exhibitions, and he loves seeing other people smile when they look at his drawings. Through the support of The Arc Westchester, Antoine also received job skill training and is currently employed at a local electronic fabrication business.

“Rainbow Fish” (22” x 14”) Acrylic on art paper

John Israel is 66 years old and living with developmental disabilities that inhibit his ability to communicate verbally. Despite this, the pride he takes in his work is evident when sharing with his community. John, whose particular focus is on watercolors and acrylics, has created over 100 paintings, many of which appeared in local exhibitions. Common themes in his paintings are fish and water. John’s mother was a recognized artist, and it is clear that he has inherited her talent and fondness for certain color schemes and styles.

Untitled (22” x 14”) Acrylic on art paper

Susan Green began her formal studies as an artist in 2006, demonstrating a keen interest in painting from the start. Now, at 59, she has had her artworks featured in multiple exhibitions over the past few years. Susan is an artist with developmental disabilities, and her interest in painting arose from a desire for creative self-expression through the use of shapes, forms, bright colors, and faces. She often expresses her shapes in a series of circles that dance across the canvas.

Untitled (22” x 14”) Acrylic on canvas

Rafael Reis is a 22-year-old artist who is on the autism spectrum and was able to explore his love for art through a day program at The Arc Westchester after graduating from high school. He attended weekly art classes where he was able to use different mediums and work alongside fellow artists to create detailed, colorful works. He also volunteered at a local senior center where he worked with residents on a variety of art projects for the local community.

This article first appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of our Cerebrum magazine. Click the cover for the full e-magazine.