Alexa: A Picture of Strength, Beauty, Intelligence, and Humor

August 01, 2015

Alexa, 2015, 24x24, oil on canvas

Alexa, 2015, 24×24″, oil on canvas (click to enlarge)

 

I am so grateful for the amazing families who have contributed and collaborated with me for my “Artism” project and for helping me along my mission to show everyone just how awesome kids on the spectrum can be! My most recent portrait is that of Alex’s friend Alexa. My son would tell you however that Alexa is his “girlfriend”, but I’m sure all the other boys in their preschool class are claiming the same…I have no doubt that this girl will have no trouble finding a prom date in 2027 ☺.

Alexa is not just a beauty; she is also naturally very strong and athletic. She loves to dance and sing to Taylor Swift and has amazing rhythm. It is so much fun to watch Alex and Alexa play together! They both enjoy a similar sense of humor. They dance and imitate each other’s silly sounds and movements, and play little “games”… One of my favorite things about Alexa is her infectious laugh!

This smart girl is now learning to read and could identify every letter of the alphabet before 2 years old, and could spell before the age of 3. She has won both the friendliness and independence awards in her preschool class. It has been a pleasure watching Alexa grow. Just this past year, Alexa’s family moved into a new home and became a big sister! Alexa has been amazing toward her baby sister, Cami and loves her very much. I can’t wait to see what the future holds!

For the painting, I chose an image captured by Alexa’s mom Lori, a photographer* as inspiration. I loved the close-up of her eyes and the painterly quality of the image and knew it would be the one I wanted to use… I think seeing Alexa everyday allowed me to paint her portrait more like the way she looks today, at 4 ½ years old. It was the most challenging piece of the series so far because the plan I had in mind for the next several paintings was to make each one monochromatic (painted with mostly one color), so they could be displayed all together to form a spectrum of color, but I thought one in all yellow wouldn’t look great, and this girl is just too pretty to be painted in just one color. Also, I like color too much and I got a little carried away and gave myself extra work…Or maybe it’s because I’m such a rebel; I can’t even follow my own rules.
😉

For the text, I hand stamped on the surface of the canvas a few words that I believe all children need to hear and internalize, especially special children with special needs–and these very important words are:

You are capable.

You are valuable.

You are loved.

 

*Also, here’s the link to Lori’s Facebook photography page (I would recommend for my readers in Southern NH with sensitive or special needs children): Laurie Spillane Photography

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Fresh off the easel…

July 20, 2015

Impression of Almond Trees in Bloom, 2015, 36x24", oil on canvas.

Impression of Almond Trees in Bloom, 2015, 36×24″, oil on canvas.

 

I recently completed this commissioned piece for a client who loves Van Gogh, and wanted me to paint something inspired by the painting, Almond Branches in Bloom, San Remy, c.1890. The client also requested that I add my own color and personal flair…The client is very happy with the results, and can’t wait to hang it in her living room.

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Update: “Artism” Project

June 17, 2015

MJ, 2015,  24x24", oil and mixed media on canvas

MJ, 2015,
24×24″, oil and mixed media on canvas (click to enlarge)

 

I have continued to work on the “Artism” Project that I recently previewed on this blog. For those who haven’t read the original project announcement, I have been creating a series of portrait paintings of children on the autism spectrum, each telling a unique story about an individual child, to promote awareness of how amazing these kids can be!

This is my latest completed addition to this project, a portrait of Alex’s friend MJ! He is truly one cool little guy and of course I had to paint him in all reds, as he has the most gorgeous red hair humanly possible… the bright dark red you usually only see on boxes of hair color kits, but his is au naturale :).

Beneath the facade of this ginger cutie is a little guy who has worked so hard to be where he is today, and two awesome parents who have maintained a positive outlook through it all.

MJ’s mom, Katie is an amazing mother and friend. She was generous (and brave) enough to let me hijack her facebook timeline and let me use whatever posts I wanted to print out and collage into the painting. Scrolling down through years of posts, it was hard for me to not get emotional, as her story was almost identical to my own. Katie’s timeline tells a story of autism from a mom’s perspective; the ups and downs, the struggles, the triumphs, the joy, the pain…all of it.

One of the reasons I admire Katie, is how she strives to keep a positive outlook, which includes celebrating the small things and enjoying the present moment whenever possible. Here are some of Katie’s posts that I have selected to include in MJ’s portrait (She’s also working on a book about her experiences with her son and I can’t wait to read it–See how our au-some kids inspire us?):

… We are branching out and trying new things and those trials are coming with great success. So to see me euphoric over what seems to be a simple trip to the beach, it helps to understand the perspective we have. To be where we’ve been and to be where we are gives us an outlook on life that I wish so many of you could experience. We find joy in the smallest of things. A meltdown-free trip to a new place? Huge.”

Of all the lessons MJ has taught us, I think one of the most valuable is how to live in the moment. When I’m with him I don’t dwell in what happened yesterday, I don’t stress about tomorrow, I inhale everything we are sharing at that very moment. He has taught me to slow down and simplify life. As he lays here next to me, sleeping, I can’t help but look at him and wonder how we got so damn lucky in this lifetime.”

I have also included some of MJ’s quotes as Katie wrote them, that capture what a sweet, funny, and lovable guy he is:

“MJ’s new line- “Don’t do dat. Dats not nice.” Need an example?

(me): Time to brush your teeth

(MJ): Don’t do dat. Dats not nice.”

“This flooding is getting serious. MJ said he just saw a shark in the parking lot”

“As I lay sick in bed, “Mommy I play wight heeya so I can be wif you.” He is so sweet and I am so lucky”.

 MJ and his family are also amazing people because no matter what they are going through, they are always extending themselves to others regardless: collecting donations for women’s shelters, food banks, you name it! Their altruism is contagious! It promotes gratitude and inspires others around them to give back as well…and now they are helping me to help others by allowing me to share their story…

Helping others is what I aim to accomplish with this series. By telling these stories, I hope to help those who do not understand, to understand a bit more…and for families who are new to the autism community, I would like them to see that there is hope and strength to be found in these stories we are sharing, and that they are not alone.

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Recent Commissioned Piece

June 11, 2015

I just finished this painting commissioned by a client who recently moved into a new home. It was inspired by a found photograph, as well as the Impressionists and it also picks up on the decor of the room in which it will be hanging. It was a fun break from what I’ve been doing, and reminded me how much I love working with color and texture!

10155538_10153337034605586_4771470623136769047_nLotus, 2015, 16×20, oil on canvas

10408486_10153337034710586_9141917190274513247_nDetail of painting…Lots of color and texture!!

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Portland OR Art Fundraising Event

This East Coast artist is going West coast for a great cause! I will have some pieces on display/for sale at Basic Space Gallery in Portland, OR for an art fundraising event on June 14th, 3-8pm. All proceeds from this event will directly benefit a partner of a fellow painter/friend of mine after a breast cancer diagnosis. For more info: http://www.basicspacegallery.com or visit the event’s FB page: https://www.facebook.com/smallworks.bigcause

 

smallworks_front

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“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.

I am sharing this painting because I want to the world to know that my boy is much more than a diagnosis or label. In order 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 must wear that label everyday). As grateful as I am to his many wonderful therapists, school administrators, teachers and other medical professionals who have prepared these forms (we consider ourselves very lucky so far), 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 and 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.

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 feel very passionate about this project and I plan on painting more portraits of children on the spectrum and displaying the work in as many places and possible, to raise awareness of autism and its prevalence in society, and to also shed a more realistic light on those affected by ASD as well as those who care for them. I also hope that this project will dispel some of the myths (such as no, there is no “look” of autism) 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

photo 1 copy 2

 

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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