“Artism”: Visual Depictions of Life on the Spectrum

April 27, 2015

 

AlexPaintingSmaller

“Alex”, 2015, 24″x24″, oil and mixed media on canvas (click on image for better detail)

As you may know, my last series, “paperdolls” was inspired by my daughter, Bella. It emerged from the inspiration I received while sitting at a table with her and cutting out paper dolls, a simple act that resulted in an obsession and entire body of work that explored female stereotypes, but in a fun, playful manner. Now I am working on a new series of paintings that have been inspired by my son Alex, who was diagnosed with autism in 2012.

My first completed piece from this series is a portrait of my son. I created this piece because I want the world to know that my son is much more than a diagnosis or label. In trying to convey this message, I ‘ve taken some of his IEPs, progress reports, evaluations, and medical forms that reflect on his journey so far, and collaged them into the background, as well as in some of his clothing; because once diagnosed, he now has to wear that label everyday.

Many of these forms were given to me during evaluations and IEP meetings, where I had to sit and hear about his strengths, abilities as well as his struggles and shortcomings…and yes, it pains me to attend such meetings, where I am reminded of his struggles and the long road ahead. As grateful as I am to his many wonderful therapists, school administrators, teachers and other medical professionals who have helped to prepare these forms, I have torn them all up–as a way of rejecting the idea that my son can be analyzed and tested and labeled on permanent records that attempt to describe and label him, as I believe that no detailed report can even begin to capture the essence of who he really is: a beautiful child who likes nature, drawing, dancing, Peppa Pig and Spiderman. Who hugs like he means it and finds joy in the little things. (He is also a big fan of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, and so I’ve collaged some of his charming caterpillar drawings onto his vest.)

His spirit is much too big to fit in a stack of papers, so like a protective mommy, I have also used paint to brush these forms away to create a safer distance from my boy and his innocent smiling face. I guess you can also say that I painted the portrait in the same way that I would want someone new to see my son…I want the viewer to notice him first…all the rest is just background.

I plan to do many more portraits of children on the spectrum. I feel very passionate about this project and I plan on displaying the work in as many places and possible, to raise awareness of autism and its prevalence in society, and to shed a more realistic light on the lives of people with ASD as well as those who care for them. Even though I never really considered myself a portrait artist, I like the concept that portraits have been historically reserved for ‘important’ people, and by creating these works, I am making a statement that individuals like my son should also be viewed as important, and even though some may have trouble expressing themselves, they too deserve to be seen, remembered and understood. I also hope that this project will dispel some of the myths (such as no, there is no “look” of someone on the spectrum) as well as fears that have been perpetrated by the media on this topic. Most importantly, I want the viewer to see past the labels and get a glimpse of these kids as they really are.

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When Life Gives You Lemons…Make Jewelry!

May 27, 2014

As you may have noticed, many of my recent posts on social media have been announcements about my new line of eco-friendly jewelry, made of reclaimed/recycled materials and featuring hand rolled beads created from recycled paper. This new art form came at a time when I was least expecting it, shortly after my son’s autism diagnosis in November 2012, and just days before my opening at the former SoBoBo Gallery in Milford, CT (where I was featured artist for the month).

After the diagnosis, I had to put everything in my life aside as our schedule was filled with therapy appointments 5 days a week (and sometimes 2 or 3 appointments a day). During these in-home therapy sessions, I needed to stay close and accessible to the therapists, and also to my son, who would periodically check to make sure I was still there. This new schedule provided very little time for painting, but for me, the need to create was still there…

I also needed to come up with a quiet yet fun project in order to keep my daughter entertained during these times, so I came up with the idea of making paper bead necklaces. My daughter enjoyed the project, however, I soon discovered that I was having even more fun than she was! I found the repetitive motion of winding the paper to be quite soothing and therapeutic, and I also found that the process of painting and/or varnishing each bead satisfied some of the tactile sensations that I enjoyed while painting on canvas. I found that after my daughter had finished the activity, I was still happily working on it…

While later considering incorporating my jewelry into my art making business, I initially had some hesitation, as I admit to having some attachment to labeling myself as a “fine artist”, however, I had to let go of this self-imposed label and just create, in order to keep my sanity, in order to just keep going…

Most of all, I loved the idea of creating something beautiful out of whatever I had at that very moment, items that were normally overlooked or would otherwise be considered trash. According to French social anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, the artist “shapes the beautiful and useful [out of the dump heap of human life]” by using whatever materials on hand, and he referred to this process as “bricolage”.

I also see this process of building with what one has on hand as symbolic to the mental space I was in at the time, and my efforts to continue to live a creative life while giving my son the necessary foundation to build his own with…and so far this journey has taught me more than all those years I spent in art school, and my son’s smile and spirit fill me with more joy than anything art related possibly could.

More info on my handmade jewelry can be found here:

https://www.etsy.com/shop/LisaKSalerno

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My Most “Secret” Painting Revealed

March 01, 2014

There’s this one odd painting that is currently hanging in my basement that does not seem to fit with the others. It was left in an unfinished state, but I kind of like it that way. This painting literally has not seen the light of day. I have never even attempted to show her in a gallery, but today she is calling to me to share her image with the world. I painted this piece in 2005, a year of transition for me as I was adjusting to my new life as a newlywed. During this time, I had continued to create, but it was all in secret.  Although I had recently moved to a new city with a vibrant art community, I was not yet motivated to show or share my work with others. I was working out my own thoughts and did not want any outside opinions to influence my work.  I call this painting “Virgin and Buddha”.

 

virginandbuddha

Perhaps one reason of why I kept this painting a secret for so long is that I didn’t yet have the words to fully explain it…but I knew on a subconscious level it was something I needed to paint at the time. Also, I knew that others would find its subject matter a bit controversial, and could even be offended if they did not fully understand my intentions, but frankly, I was a bit burnt out from being in art school and the constant need to explain myself. I just wanted to find my own way…to paint and break all the rules that have been imposed on me for so long.

But now I have the energy to open myself up to discussion, and I don’t really mind what others think…as only half of what a viewer sees when looking at a piece of art is what the artist intended. The other half of what they see is what they bring to it, with their own eyes, their own experiences and thoughts. Anyone can allow himself or herself to get offended, even though my work was not meant to do so. As part of an artist statement I had previously written, my work  “is not a call for a riot, but an invitation to tea”. In my mind, there is something beautiful to be found in all cultures and religions, and when I create something containing these images, it is in celebration of this fact. When my work contains images of two or more icons from different cultures and religions juxtaposed into one, my intention is not to create cultural divides, it is to build bridges that connect others based on similarities.

 

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On Adding New Color

February 11, 2014

Perhaps it was the Vivaldi in the background or the caffeine buzz from my morning cup of coffee and then some green tea (and maybe some dark chocolate as well), but I somehow got an extra dose of ambition that led to me digging around in my studio when I had stumbled across some paintings that I had abandoned for months…paintings that I had stashed aside because they were either too wet to work on or I just simply had enough of them.

This morning, inspiration had struck and I was able to see them with fresh eyes, and so I began work within minutes. As I began to apply new color to these long neglected works, I had a flashback from when I was a young painter fresh out of art school, on a residency at the Vermont Studio Center, when I had the privilege of meeting as well as receiving a studio visit from world-renowned artist Wolf Kahn. One of the things he had said to me in response to looking at my work that really stuck with me over the years was: “Add some color that scares you”, and so I began to whip up a new, fresh and intimidating color.

Then, I started to reflect upon the real wisdom behind his words, and how they could also apply to other aspects of life as well… Just imagine… all the possibilities that naturally unfold when you dare to add an element of surprise, attempt something bold, something that wouldn’t normally occur to you to do… Now go ahead and make that move, stretch yourself beyond your typical realm of thinking. Then, take a step back to reflect upon what you just did (just as you would study any work of art in progress). You may discover that when you add a new color into the mix of things, whole new patterns will emerge, and you will find new meaning in everything else in contrast.

Perhaps your bold move has shifted and expanded your entire view of things, and sometimes you will find that there is just some stuff that could use some tweaking or toning down in order to create the right balance….but the best part is knowing that you have the upper hand on deciding how to proceed; After all, you are the artist.

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Art at the Capitol

May 29, 2013

I was recently informed that one of my paintings had been selected by the Connecticut Commission for Children for inclusion in an exhibition at the State Capitol Building in Hartford entitled: “Celebrating Community, Safety, and Bravery: An Artistic Tribute to Newtown and Connecticut”. The special show, which will run from June 5th to July 5th, will include carefully selected art from the CT region, the nation as well as from around the world. The honor came as quite a surprise…The painting selected for display was actually a donation I had made to the HealingNewtown Artspace this past winter to help support their programs to bring healing through the arts, so I really wasn’t expecting anything else to come of it and didn’t know anything about this exhibition until I received the following letter:

Letter to Artist

 

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Art of Healing

January 25, 2013

Last night, I attended the opening reception for the Art Reach Project, at St. Joseph Hospital in Nashua, NH. Art Reach, a collaboration between local artists and the hospital, is coordinated by artist and interior designer Ruth Axtell of New England Art Reach and Tout Le Monde Interiors.  By promoting health and art in the community, one of the goals of the project is to harness the healing power of the arts and to create and inspire a healing design for display in the atrium and the first floor of the hospital.  While I mostly exhibit my art in galleries, it is sometimes a pleasure to display my work in venues where the people who are viewing the works aren’t necessarily artists, collectors, or gallery goers. Sometimes I gain a new perspective about my work as I overhear the reactions to others with an “untrained” eye, and if I am open enough while listening to others, I will receive a much different input about my art than someone trying to intellectualize it, dissect it, find meaning in every brushstroke or compare my paintings to other painters in the grand history of art. These folks are just simply taking it in…

 

On a personal note, I believe that when one finds or discovers their own talents and abilities, the first challenge is to further develop these skills so that one is constantly evolving. The other challenge is to find ways in which to utilize these abilities in order to service others, even if it feels like it’s just something small, like making someone smile as they walk past your work. Last night, soon after the reception attending crowd dispersed, I witnessed the power of art by watching hospital workers and patients walking by. Some were being pushed in wheelchairs with bodies weakened by chemo or drained from the effects of illness. Perhaps these individuals were living out some of the darkest moments of their lives, but their faces lit right up as they glanced at the colorful art on display, as though it was a temporary breath of fresh air. It is moments like this when I was reminded of why the arts really do matter; and how just the act of simply viewing art can offer one  a short respite from one’s own suffering. It also made me think of this quote:

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” -Pablo Picasso

 

All the pieces in this exhibition will be on display through the April 24th. Featured Art Reach artists are donating 15% of their proceeds to the St. Joseph Hospital Cancer Center.

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“paperdolls” Unfold for Opening Reception at SoBoBo

November 14, 2012

It was a great time at the opening reception at SoBoBo Art Gallery & Consortium, in Milford, CT, where I have the honor of being Featured Artist for the entire Month of November.  It was a pleasure to meet up with some old friends, as well as share my work with other art appreciators and collectors who asked many questions and showed a genuine interest in my “paperdolls” series.  I overheard and participated in many lively and serious discussions, among friends and strangers, yet there was also a cheerful energy in the room. Laughter and joking around at one of my shows is always a welcome thing, because that is exactly what  I hope to initiate with my work, especially with this series, as I see my art as being playful with serious undertones, a fun and non-threatening way to start a meaningful conversation.

One unexpected favorite seemed to be my painting titled  “reject”, a collage piece I had made of old gallery rejection letters. Visitors said they were inspired to see me willing to display something that may be seen as a weakness, and transforming a negative into something positive, such as art. I told the story of when I started the series, many gallery owners and directors rejected my work because they didn’t know what to make of it, so I got some really interesting rejection letters, some even suggesting that I go to galleries in cities with a “more sophisticated art scene” than their own. I decided I would make some art with these rejections, so that every time I got another rejection letter, instead of feeling down, I would be excited about the new art piece I would be able to create with it…The funny thing is, as my attitude changed, I haven’t received any more rejections to collage with. As one visitor put it; “Good Voodoo perhaps”?

Perhaps one of the biggest hits of the evening was my timely installation “Binders Full of Women”. Gallery patrons can enjoy flipping through a book I created (something allowed to be touched at an art gallery!), filled with depictions of female stereotypes, but with a touch of humor and whimsy, a style that I can only describe as “Punk Rock meets Martha Stewart”. This binder is also on display alongside an open binder, “Binders Full of Women Volume II”, which is more of a sculptural and free-flowing piece, whereas the “paperdolls” are depicted as freeing themselves from what binds them and are given positive labels such as “capable”,  “leader”, “confident”, and “loved”. “Binders Full of Women” may be title and concept inspired by a quote Romney made during one of the presidential debates, however the piece makes no other visual references to the former presidential candidate, but calls attention to some of the current issues such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, so I was expecting to get into a little trouble with this this piece. I was surprised  however at all the compliments I received, especially from those who had affiliated themselves with the Republican/Libertarian parties.  One visitor confessed to me that regardless of her own party affiliation, the piece still managed to give her “the chills”, yet also managed to make her smile at the same time. Best compliment ever!

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What I’m Working On Now…

October 22, 2012

I have some new works in progress, which will be new additions to my “paperdolls”. All of the pieces for this series I have completed and have been exhibiting so far are primarily two-dimensional oil on canvas paintings with a few mixed media elements. These new projects will incorporate even more mixed media. They are meant for exhibit alongside the paintings not only to expand the collection but also to take the series to a new level as well. I have added new elements, such as text to these new pieces, which will enhance the messages they convey. I am at the point in this project, two years in the making, where I am now ready to incorporate my “paperdoll” symbol or icon and work it into some multimedia installations as well. I thought I’d give you a little teaser here and share an image from my first project, which will make it’s debut at SoBoBo Art Gallery in Milford, CT, where I will be Featured Artist for the month of November. Wish me luck!

-Lisa

 

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History of Woman

June 21, 2012

I just returned from a long weekend in Connecticut, where I attended the public reception for the “History of Woman” exhibition at the Thomas J. Walsh Art Gallery in the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts at Fairfield University. The opening was a wonderful success and many were in attendance. It was not your typical wine and cheese opening; guests had the opportunity to enjoy plates of Indian Food, enjoy sumptuous desserts, listen to beautiful live music performed by a very talented 14 year-old cellist, and view amazing works of art by local and regional artists. I had 13 pieces in the show; a dozen paper doll paintings and an abstract thrown in for good measure. As for me, I have to say that it felt great to see my work in such a beautiful gallery setting …it was a little bit like: “okay, I raised these babies, now it’s time for their first day of school”! Needless to say, I was a very proud “momma of paintings”.

The best part of the exhibit is that it is hosted by the Traveling Art Gallery (T.A.G.) of Montage Initiative, a non-profit organization based in Bridgeport, CT and London, U.K. that “gives women around the world expanded opportunities to earn a sustainable living; contribute to their families and communities; and be part of a global network of positive change”. Montage Initiative’s attention is currently focused on the plight of the widows in the Indian providence of Vrindavan, although it endeavors to alleviate the reality of extreme poverty worldwide by rallying support and awareness and promoting peace building. The exhibition runs through June 23rd.

For more information on the Traveling Art Gallery and other Montage Initiative projects, please visit: http://www.montageinitiative.org. For more information regarding programs and exhibitions at the Quick Center for the Arts, please visit: http://www.quickcenter.com.

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Targeting a New Challenge

February 14, 2012

Every year, I like to take on a new challenge that allows me to break out of my normal way of thinking, make new connections, and explore new techniques, which in turn, infuses my work with new energy. The last two years I participated in the Downtown Milford Business Association’s “ Open Doors of Downtown Milford Art Exhibition and Charity Auction”, in the vibrant city of Milford, CT, where selected artists were challenged to create a work of art using recycled doors. I very much enjoyed the challenge of working within the confines of my “assignment”, and stepping outside the gallery setting to chat with the locals and share my art with all who happened to walk by…

Since the last Open Doors, I’ve kept my eyes open for what would be my next challenge, until I accepted with enthusiasm an invitation to participate in the upcoming exhibition, “On Target”, hosted by the Woman’s Caucus for Art/New Hampshire Chapter. For this Invitational Challenge Exhibition, which will be on display this summer at the beautiful Bedford Library in Bedford, in New Hampshire, I will make an art piece out of/inspired by an antique brown paper “official 50 ft. small bore rifle target”. In other words will have to turn this very plain and brown thing, which has no more aesthetic value than a paper bag into an object of beauty…


…And to make things more complicated, I received mine in the mail last week, and it came slightly damaged with a tear in the center. I will try not to be discouraged and begin on a positive note to say that the tear was a “happy accident”…So what will come of this new opportunity? Will I hit the mark? Stay tuned for more adventures of an artist and her target.

Lisa

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