Artist coping with autism makes it big
MANILA, Philippines–“Just before we came back here to the Philippines, there was a gentleman in Vancouver who's an art collector and saw his painting in the studio,” recalled Mari Zel Tan, mother of abstract artist, J.A. Tan.
“He just had a black canvas on his easel in his studio and just a few sketches. The man looked at him and said, ‘Are you bringing this to the Philippines?’ And JA said no. And the gentleman said, ‘Can you finish it for me? I want this.’ And then JA goes, 'What do you want me to do?’ And he says, ‘Anything you want to do.’”
J.A. is 27 years old. Before he turned 3, he was diagnosed with autism.
It’s a rainy night in Makati's Central Business District. But the weather seems to have no effect on the people who fill the tiny ArtistSpace gallery at the Ayala Museum.
Passers-by crane their necks over the crowd as they try to spot the artist responsible for the works adorning the gallery walls.
Roaming around, accepting random pats on the back from friends, relatives, and strangers is J.A. Tan.
Born and raised in the Philippines, he moved to Canada in 2006 when he was accepted at the Emily Carr University of Art+Design. Now, some 6 years later, J.A. is holding his second exhibit in Manila.
According to his mother, after J.A. was diagnosed as having autism, “some professionals didn't believe that he could be productive. And if I chose to believe what they said then it would've come true. But I continued on.”
Now, she marvels at JA’s paintings - which are abstract, non-representational - fetching as much as $2600 (approximately P116,000) back in Vancouver where he’s based and has had several shows.
Using acrylic, oil, black ink, pastel, pencil, crayons, and mixed media, J.A.’s paintings feature bold colors with various geometrical shapes, lines, and textures.
While he has been drawing since he was two, it was on a trip to Disneyland when J.A. was 10 that Mari Zel discovered her child had something different.
“Because he liked art, I had him join a workshop for children. We were being taught how to draw Mickey Mouse, and all of a sudden the teacher stopped everything and said, ‘Look at us all trying to draw Mickey Mouse, when this kid is painting Esmeralda from [the film] The Hunchback of Notradame.’”
After the class, the guy approached Mrs. Tan and said that if J.A. were older, they’d tell him to stay there and they’d hire him. “And I said, when he's older, I’ll bring him back to you.”
A man of few words, J.A. describes his painting process as beginning “in my head.” He adds, “I feel so good doing this, because every time I feel stressed, I paint.”
In the exhibit brochure, Jeane Krabbendam, one of J.A.’s art teachers, explained his creative process: “He generally begins his work with an initial design…He starts with an underpainting often covering bright large areas of his canvas. However, lately he also chooses more plain, darker tones as a first layer to work with pastel colors on top.”
Last year, J.A.’s "Victory" was one of 8 pieces chosen from over 200 submissions to the United Nations. It was later issued as a UN stamp.
For Mari Zel, of course, awards are just icing on an already large cake.
“For him to able to achieve what he has achieved is just amazing for us. For every parent, it's like a kid to be able to be as independent as he his, when people said he couldn't. It's joy enough for us.”
She hasn’t taken J.A. back to Disneyland yet. - Rappler.com
Peter Imbong is a full-time freelance writer, sometimes a stylist, and on some strange nights, a host. After starting his career in a business magazine, he now writes about lifestyle, entertainment, fashion, and profiles of different personalities. Check out his blog, Peter Tries to Write.