In 2002, VSA arts and Volkswagen of America, Inc. launched "Expressing
Freedom," a call for art which encouraged young artists with disabilities
to contemplate freedom in their lives. The resulting 131 submissions demonstrated
that freedom does not always refer to an external state, but as reflected
by an abundance of self-portraits received, can be more intimate, quite
internal or personal.
Over 20,000 calls for entries were sent to high schools and colleges around
the country inviting submissions by young artists with disabilities, ages
16 to 25, to illustrate the theme "Expressing Freedom." Ten Finalists
will be awarded a total of $25,000 provided by Volkswagen of America,
Inc. The contents of this exhibit were developed under a grant from the
Department of Education.
VSA arts, an international nonprofit organization founded in 1974 by Jean
Kennedy Smith, promotes education and lifelong learning opportunities
in the arts for people with disabilities. Nearly five million people participate
in VSA arts programs annuallymany of which are sponsored by a worldwide
network of affiliate organizations. VSA arts programs in music, dance,
drama, creative writing and the visual arts develop learning skills, encourage
independence, and promote access and inclusion.
Three Self-Portraits mixed media on illustration board (39" x 16")
"I live in a world in which spoken language is muted and indistinct. As
a child, I discovered that pictures allowed me to experience what I could
not hear, my own drawings allowed me to express what I could not say.
Visual art gave me the freedom to communicate with an intensity and precision
that broke through the frustration of acquiring language."
Matthew Krawcheck, who has Asperger's syndrome, attended public school
magnet art programs since the fifth grade. Slow at processing oral and
written language, he learned to turn this challenge into an advantage.
The extra time he spends on a problem, whether practical, academic, or
within his art, gives him the freedom to explore unexpected connections
that might be missed by someone who absorbs information more quickly.
A few years ago, he began to incorporate unique textures and found objects
to add depth and intensity to his pieces. As a result, his paintings emerge
in layers beginning with the choice of canvas (an old car door, a pegboard
left in a trash pile, etc.) and progress through the base coat and textures
to painted images. Of this technique, he articulates,
"This mirrors the way talents and skills, relationships, and experiences,
are continually overlaid to create an understanding of the world, each
new layer enriching, but never completely eclipsing what came before."
Matthew recently graduated from the New World School of the Arts in Miami,
Florida, and will continue his studies at the Kansas City Art Institute
Pulling up a Dose watercolor (10 1/2" x 14.5")
"Painting is an escape from living with my disabilities. It is the physical
release from the bi-polar disorder, allowing my emotions to drain on to
a canvas. It is a mental exercise for multiple sclerosis, making me continually
think. I feel a drive to create, to overcome the disability."
Carrie Wheeler attended the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan
in 1995, and Schoolcraft College in Livona, Michigan from 1996 to 2001.
She was afforded almost no art education as a child, yet eventually decided
to teach art. "Now as a teacher for home schooled children, I find myself
in the position of the student again." Wheeler uses watercolor as a medium
because it is easy to transport and dries fast. She also incorporates
water-soluble pens and purposefully allows them to bleed into the paint.
Her work is intended to evoke a mood, and she is less interested in a
realistic portrayal. "My self-portraits are created when I am able to
find a moment of beauty and hope in myself and in my daily struggle."
Primarily self-taught in art, she continues to pursue her creativity on
Wonder b/w photograph (8" x 10")
"My creative process is able to proceed without my learning disability
interrupting it. Dealing with a learning disability all my life, I have
always been cast lower than others, pitied, or done worse than my peers.
But in art, I can compete on an equal playing field and excel past those
who can read better or faster or even spell all their words correctly."
Ashley Youkilis enjoys showing the soul of her subjects through photography.
She comments, "I feel through my black and white photographs, the viewer
can see into the soul of the picture and indirectly into my soul." Ashley's
goal is to be a fashion photographer. "Art is a large part of my life.
It enters into almost every decision I make; composition, sensitivity,
creative thinking all factor into all my classes and they are all skills
I have learned in art." Ashley will be starting her senior year at Wyoming
High School in Ohio.
Lapse Into Reflex I medium formate C-print (9 1/2" x 9 5/8")
"In the space of these photographs I am able to control my illness, as
I now believe my illness only lives in memory, as does any psychological
rumination. Because the fear, pain and loss accompanied by any disability
is no different from that which all people must at one point pass through,
it is important to me that this work and its future offspring surpass
the limits of my cancer."
Dana Liebermann, who is in remission from Hodgkin's disease, began photography
classes at the Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1996.
This photograph is part of a series of five photographs that are a direct
reference and testament to her cancer. The photographs are meant to function
in two ways. First, they are meant to reference medical photographs. This
is achieved by using a metallic surface as a backdrop and a shallow depth
of field so that the body takes on an object-like quality. Second, they
are meant to be seductive, as reflected in the pastel palette and cinematic
execution. Liebermann conveys, "The duality that is here created between
medicine, which is associated with the absolute and unalterable truth,
and image, which is associated with the subjective and the always relative,
is meant to create ambiguity." Dana will be a sophomore this fall at New
York University, Steinhardt School of Education, in the Department of
Art. She is pursuing a bachelor's degree in studio art.
Sunday Afternoon oil on canvas (30" x 38")
"Each piece I create shows the freedom of people, the freedom they have
to experience, and my freedom to create and show that experience, that
Timothy Batten, who is legally blind, is able to accomplish his artwork
through the use of dark contacts and biocular glasses. "I find it ironic
that I am legally blind, but I am still very much a visually artistic
person. I really don't look at myself as having a disability." He was
encouraged to practice art by his uncle and grandfather, who are both
professional artists. Timothy prefers using a variety of media to achieve
different feelings. "Instead of having my work focus on the individual
person, I wanted to use the people in the painting as an artistic device
that could be used to help create a moment," says Timothy. Moving the
viewer through the picture plane, he attempts to capture them within a
moment of observation, where they are unable to look away. Timothy is
a freshman at the School of Visual Arts in New York where he is majoring
in computer animation.
The Sixth Plane oil on canvas (48" x 48")
"This is a painting of a gray box, the box of limitations. Since beginning
to paint I have seen the sixth plane of that box become more and more
transparent for the viewer. I have been able to reveal myself and connect
with people through this sixth plane, which is now transparent."
Justin Duffus' interest in art began in the third grade as a form of escape
in the private school he was attending. The arts gave him a form of recognition
and satisfaction that he was not receiving for academics. For twelve years,
he struggled with required schooling due to a learning disability. The
dependence on language in the form of words left him feeling isolated
and alone. For Justin, "Art has become my language. It has set me free
from this isolation." Now, strong connections for him are possible. "I
am able to communicate with the viewer and incorporate the viewer's experiences
into mine. I feel there is an unspoken understanding between us."
Studio Antics mixed media (22" x 16")
"Using art to communicate, I concentrate on observation and having fun,
not rigid rules and logic. With art I am free to express myself through
it using the world around me as my guide. It is also forgiving and mistakes
can always be corrected."
William Ferguson, who has Asperger's syndrome and attention deficit disorder,
was placed in a self-contained special education classroom where his teacher
encouraged him to draw to assist in learning academics. He continued art
classes throughout grade and middle schools, exploring a variety of techniques
and media. Fascinated by cartoons, William often created his own characters
and situations. He applied this interest by joining the staff of the school
newspaper as a political cartoonist. "Through education and my gift of
art, I have found the freedom to express myself without limitations."
William will be a freshman this fall at the Ringling School of Art and
Design, Sarasota, Florida where he will pursue a BFA in illustration.