Disabled artists work on display
By Lou Fancher Correspondent Contra Costa Times
An exhibition of figurative art created by artists at Richmond's NIAD Art Center speaks volumes.
Created by disabled artists who sometimes struggle for words, the vibrant paintings and evocative sculptures transcend language while expressing their creators' fluid imaginations.
"Where Have All The People Gone?" will be on display at the Village Theatre Gallery through Sept. 30.
Amy Miller, the Town of Danville's visual arts coordinator, saw "Create," a traveling exhibit featuring NIAD (National Institute of Art and Disabilities) artists organized by Berkeley Art Museum and New York City alternative art space White Columns. She recognized a perfect opportunity to expand the already-full calendar for the gallery in the Village Theatre lobby and invited Director of Exhibitions Tim Buckwalter to suggest a themed show.
"Where Have All The People Gone?" evolved from Buckwalter's active imagination as he sought an alternative to NIAD's nationally recognized abstract art. NIAD was co-founded by Elias Katz, a clinical psychologist, and the late artist and educator Florence Ludins-Katz. The studio-based program's mission -- helping adult artists with developmental and other disabilities -- has grown to represent the full potential of a sector of the artistic community once overlooked by museums and galleries.
Several NIAD artists have shown and sold their work in national contemporary art venues and the organization's impressive impact on 21st century art is the subject of the traveling exhibit Miller viewed. The more than 30 paintings and sculptures on exhibit in Danville delve into figurative representations: literally, human bodies.
"With a group show of figurative work, gallery visitors can see how artists with disabilities approach the idea of representing themselves and those around them and how they consider their own bodies," Buckwalter said.
An informal, free Art Chat on Wednesday will let people ask questions of Buckwalter and view videos of the artists at work. Buckwalter says the gallery's prior show, a juried figurative exhibition, will make for interesting comparisons.
"Even though the (NIAD) artists have disabilities, they are engaged in the very conversations taking place right now in the contemporary art world."
Four of the artists took part in interviews before the show opened in late August, offering special insights on their technique and intentions. Artist Jonathan Valdivias prefers oranges, yellows and browns but goes multipigmented for the spiky-haired figure he says is a self-portrait. He paints according to mood, which means the composition and resulting narrative reflect his self-perception and emotional sensitivities as much as his mastery of oilsticks and acrylics.
Karen May works in clay; crafting amusing busts. The rich and varied textures lend sophistication and poignancy to their expression. "One of them is my father, and one is my mother. I did this to help me remember them," she said.
Ray Brown paints memories, recalling the Arkansas fields of his childhood and working spontaneously. Thick swirls of yellow-green paint surround bright, polka-dot plants rising from blackened soil in "Untitled." The blue-skinned male figure hovering on the right side of the 24-inch piece -- his red facial features plush and potentially angry -- is a self-portrait.
"I start working and let a painting come out," he said. Like many of the artists, his few words are countered by his artwork's suggested "stories."
Billy White was hit by a car when he was seven years old. The accident resulted in the loss of some cognitive ability, but a connection he made to Vincent van Gogh has unleashed his artistic potential.
"I do van Gogh in the style that he did, so it's like you're looking right at him, so it looks like he's right next-door," White said. "Everybody has their hero, and Vincent van Gogh is my hero. The story of his life is like mine. His art talks to me."