Saturday, July 20, 2013

What's in a Signature Part II

Jimmy presenting his painting "Girl from Egypt" in
May 2013 at the Owatonna Center for the Arts 
As many of know, verbal language is a challenge for Jimmy on a daily basis.  Jimmy’s emergence as an artist began with illness.  In May of 2013, Jimmy presented his art to a large group at the Owatonna Center for the Arts.  After the presentation, a woman asked me if I thought we would have discovered Jimmy’s love of art if he hadn’t gotten sick.  I didn’t have to think for very long as I answered, “no, I don’t think that we would have found art for him.” Until Jimmy was in 6th grade, I always imagined him in college.  He was smart.  He had a great memory….sure, he’d need supports…but, I never gave up the idea of college for him until his health so severely eroded and the words he had gained slipped away… only then, I gave up my dream for him.  I discouraged school staff from mainstreaming Jimmy for classes like art and music even though he enjoyed both. Many kids with special needs are only mainstreamed for classes that I would consider to have had less “meat” than reading,  math, science and social studies. I didn’t want him shuffled into these classes as it signified for me, I’d given up on him. 

Jimmy at Good Purpose Gallery in Lee, MA with his paintings
"Goodbye Ron",
"Girl in the Forrest", "Elizabeth" and "Jim" 
In many school settings, kids with special needs get placed into art and music classes for mainstreaming.  Jimmy was great at social studies and science.  He could read well. So, I was not hot on Jimmy being in art class as a means of mainstreaming…..where would this get him in the future??? Jimmy was mainstreamed for many classes that I felt had "meat".  So, he had less time for art and music.  Although, he did take them.  Instead of choir class, Jimmy played baritone in the middle school band...a first for the middle school and he was good at it. It was only when he got sick and we were trying to find a way to engage him that we discovered his true love of and motivation for art.  He loves learning about artists.  He spends hours during the week reading about artists.  I print articles and he loves reading about famous artists …seems to never get old for him.  I don't regret not learned about his art aptitude until he was older as he learned many valuable skills in the mainstream classes that he took.  It helped us to learn how he learned when he felt well.

"Mad Cat" 11"x14" Oil Pastel on Paper, 2013 inspired
by Dutch Expressionists
In 2008 as Jimmy’s health improved, his artwork provided a voice for him.  Those who saw his artwork began to see him differently and see potential.  His artwork was certainly a catalyst for improving his sense of self and wellbeing. 

Jimmy works hard to communicate to us how he feels.  I have often referred to him as the blade of grass that grows through the tar…come hell or high water, he will make his point. When he was about 5, he taught himself sign language over the course of a weekend after my daughter brought a sign language book home from school.  Verbal language was illusive to him at that time.  We all learned how to sign the alphabet and used this for several years with Jimmy. …it was concrete, visual and made sense to him. He taught us how to best communicate with him at the time. We still occasionally use signing to lead him to verbalize. 

Jimmy’s art continues to be his voice for us as a family.  His art speaks volumes to us as it often helps to tell us how he feels.  Over the last several months, his sketchbook has shown panic, rash work lacking detail and the quality we’ve grown to know. Although he still is producing very interesting works, it isn’t at the same pace that it had been.  He recently produced a very interesting piece called, “Face.”  He created this piece from a close up black and
"Face" 11"x14" Oil Pastel on Paper, 2013
white photo of a face.  He outlined the light and dark parts of the face on the photo with a pen and translated what he saw to paper with oil pastel and loads of color. This is a technique that he often uses.  When I posted the piece on Facebook.  I was stunned at what people saw in the piece….one elephant, two elephants, one face, two faces, a fish and a dog.  It is a very interesting piece.  Last week, he had to sign several new pieces before I had them scanned.  Since early May, we have been back and forth with doctors as he’s been losing weight, not sleeping, vomiting and complaining of stomach pain. He was struggling the day I asked him to sign his works. So, I shouldn't have been surprised when he signed “Face” upside down in yellow.  The upside down yellow signature was barely visible. Then he took an oil pastel and covering up the yellow signature….I said, “hey, Jim your name is upside down.  With intent, he took a darker color and signed upside down again in the same place.  He looked at me and said, “sick.” 
Clearly, he was making a point with me…he must feel upside down….”sick.” 

After being scoped last week, we can confirm his pain and illness.  Resolution of his conditions are another story.  But, we are on the complicated path to reduce his pain and put him back on strong footing.

"Girl from Egypt" Jimmy's work
will be
included in a
special installation
at the Northern Trust Collectors Lounge
 (or other location tbd)
September 19th through the 22nd
on Navy Pier.

So, what’s in a signature for Jimmy?  His signature tells us who he is and now how he feels.