Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Windmill, After Van Gogh by Chris Stiles
This week I am working on installing a new art exhibit at church. It is a 38-piece collection of work by an artist in our congregation, Chris Stiles. Chris uses ballpoint pen, permanent marker, and pencil on paper, grocery bags, post-it notes, blank pages of books and whatever other clean spaces he can get his hands on. My favorite things about Chris' work are his use of color and his perspective. He tends toward bright and vibrant colors that highlight the beauty of the natural world -- to me, his work seems to capture those fleeting moments in nature when we see God's glory fully unveiled in his creation. His vision and perspective are also intriguing to me, as he often portrays objects with outlined shapes and contours that strike me as surprising and sometimes unusual.
Chris was diagnosed with autism over 35 years ago. He has limited communication and social awareness. Chris began drawing as a child after attending a special program for children with developmental delays. His first drawing was of scenes along the way to a camp for special needs chilren at Mt. Hood; to this day he often draws a small, stylized picture of Mt. Hood in the corner of his drawings, marking its significance in his life. It is not uncommon for Chris to labor over a drawing and then continue to mark on the paper until it is completely covered with black ink, or to finish it and immediately ball it up and throw it into the fire.
I happen to think that Chris' art stands on its own, apart from its distinction as being made by a man with autism. However autism is a fundamental part of Chris' story and it does make an impact, not only on what Chris creates, but also on how his creations are received. I love the fact that his work is absolutely, positively, categorically devoid of pretense and ego. He is not trying to be a particular kind of artist or make a particular kind of art for a particular purpose. He is just being who God made him to be. The result is a body of work that is a particular kind of art and can serve a particular purpose, but not because he means for it to do so. Rather because the God who made Chris enabled him to create beautiful art that glorifies Himself and His good creation.
Check out Chris' website here, and come see his art on display at John Knox Presbyterian Church, April 11-May 30.
Matterhorn, by Chris Stiles