A version of this story appears in Tuesday’s Healthy Life section of The Oklahoman.
Artists with autism show their work in “Big Swanky Art Show” in Oklahoma City’s Paseo district
The two-night “Big Swanky Art Show III” kicked off last weekend during the Paseo Arts District’s First Friday Gallery Walk and continues from 7 to 9 p.m. this Friday at Istvan Galley during the monthly LIVE on the Plaza art walk in Oklahoma City.
As patrons packed into Rainbow Fleet during the Paseo Arts District’s First Friday Gallery Walk, David Blose took some art lovers by the hand to show them his work.
A technology enthusiast, Blose, 25, had used paint to add whimsical color to computer components like a motherboard, DVD drive and hard drive, as well as rendering such sage advice as “I should have gotten the warranty upgrade” on bright letters on canvas.
“It’s a personal toolkit,” Blose said, pointing out another of his paintings hanging in the “Big Swanky Art Show.”
The Yukon resident also snacked on gourmet cupcakes and mingled with the other artists participating in the first of the two-night “Big Swanky Art Show III,” a yearly exhibit of paintings by artists with autism. Supported by the Oklahoma Arts Council, the event is a partnership of Youth and Family Services in Canadian County, Autism Oklahoma and Bee’s Knees, a collaborative of artistic entrepreneurs with autism.
“All the artists have a flower or a boutonnière. It’s swanky. It’s just fancy,” said Cristine Segui-Harris, director of the Big Swanky Art Camp, grinning as the artists signed autographs and showed off their badges featuring avatars they designed and painted.
For two weeks over the summer, 13 teens and adults with autism participated in the camp, where they worked with professional artists to express themselves creatively. The Big Swanky Art Show is the camp’s capstone event, and it continues from 7 to 9 p.m. this Friday at Istvan Galley during the monthly LIVE on the Plaza art walk.
“This art camp brings a new level of innovation,” said Melinda Lauffenburger, executive director of Autism Oklahoma, in an email. “The camp promotes creativity and using art to communicate. This art camp is not about kids with disabilities, it’s about celebrating the unique gifts of each artist. It’s about bringing these young adults together and showing them what they can do instead of what they can’t do. We really want to bring hope to everyone who has been diagnosed with autism. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something because you can do anything you want to do.”
During “Big Swanky Art Show III,” patrons can buy paintings, prints, coasters and notecards by the artists, who range in age from 15 to 31, and place silent auction bids on large collaborative projects.
With a flourish, Oklahoma City artist Lindsay Pluess, 31, pointed out her small landscape of snowy mountains arranged as part of a large installation of canvas in the shape of Oklahoma. Like Blose, she has participated every year in the “Big Swanky Art Show.”
“I can paint possibly anything in my imagination. I love to paint,” Pluess said, showing a starry scene she created as a part of “Composite Night Tree,” a collaborative painting that stretches across two large canvases.
“I kind of like to talk to people politely about my artwork. It’s really interesting.”
More than artwork
Through art, the campers overcome their disabilities and learn confidence and teamwork, said Youth and Family Services Executive Director Dee Blose, who is David Blose’s mother.
“Most all of them are very visual. They’re very visual learners and visual thinkers. So the art is really kind of the natural way that they think,” she said.
Participating in the “Big Swanky Art Show” also gives the opportunity for the artists to develop their socialization and communication skills.
“What we really see is that when they get to paint something that has a lot of meaning to them, then they start socializing and talking. Just like at this thing where they’ll talk to you and tell you all about it, in another environment, they might not be able to do that, because that’s one of the hallmarks of autism,” said Dee Blose. “But when you get them talking about something that they love, then they just open up and they want to tell you all about it.”
Participating in her first “Big Swanky Art Show,” Michelle Cross, 23, of Moore, was happy to show her cheerfully colored paintings of the “My Little Pony” Pegasus Fluttershy, the “Pokemon” character Pikachu and a fluffy red panda.
“I also paint flowers, trees, and the anime version of me, the girl in flowers,” Cross said, pointing to a large portrait. “It was my first year. It was terrific.”
“Big Swanky Art Show III”
When: 7 to 9 p.m. Friday.
Where: Istvan Gallery, 1218 N Western.