Art is a process, a feeling, a place where peace, hope, expression, safety, and purpose live. While kneading thick clay, melting paint into blank canvases, and drawing new shapes on an iPad, over 100 students at Gateway Arts Center in Brookline, Massachusetts call art home. Each of these artists has a disability, but holds a different story within themselves that they use art to convey.
The center’s current exhibit titled “TechnoGateway,” based on artwork created or inspired by technology, fills the walls with imaginative creatures and bright color. In Darryl Richard’s Untitled acrylic on canvas piece, a cartoon pear holds a “rock on” sign, a hot dog carries a boom box, and an onion raises a walker above its head in the center, amongst other food part of the crowd. Each piece of food has its own personality and the vibrant color creates energy and movement within the piece. For Richards, his “brain is like a puzzle piece” and art helps him express more of his “feelings than by just talking to people.” His painting mocks the derogative naming of disabled people as “vegetables” and takes hold of disability as an aspect of life not seen in a negative light. It is something to take pride in, not to hold one back from joy.
Jamilah Monroe’s Untitled, a digital drawing printed on paper, features a gray line drawing of an ostrich wearing a hula skirt with its long neck curved to almost touch the ground. This character-driven artwork relates to the myth that ostriches bury their heads in the sand to avoid predators, which can connect to the feeling of loneliness or “otherness” disabled people sometimes experience. The compositon of this piece takes the viewer’s eye around the page in a circular journey, while they admire the simple, but inventive details of the animal from its mohawk to its flowing skirt of leaves.
The exhibit also includes creative writing in comic books to read or small excerpts like that of Story About Medved and Anya by Colleen McFarland, bursting with detailed, imaginative prose. In the description of a werewolf, “his shoulders were broad and expansive like two black fields at night separated by a large tree” and “the first scar on his right cheek was shaped like a boomerang.” Gallery guests can imagine this large, black creature through McFarland’s figurative language and symbolism, then gaze down at her ceramic sculpture titled Medved, which encompasses the strong, brawny description.
All the artists in the exhibit and Gateway program in its 40+ years, build their own worlds through their art. Gateway allows all people regardless of disability to feel included through its supervisors and sense of community. All art from the exhibit and inside Gateway’s store, such as screen-printed clothing, pillows, notebooks, and mugs are for sale, where the artists receive 50% profit. Though the artists may have different strengths and needs, art is the ultimate reward, a sense of achievement in creating something which never existed to add to the world.
(“TechnoGateway” remains on view through November 9 at Gateway Arts Center, 62 Harvard Street, Brookline, Massachusetts. The gallery is open M-F 9-4:30pm and on Saturday from 12-5pm. The studios are open M-F 8:30-3:30pm. Join the artists on September 19 from 5-7pm for the reception).