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My Autistic Son's Artistic Experience with a Kindred Soul

Back in June, I had written about my experience of the Art Brut exhibition in Bangkok featuring artworks by disadvantaged individuals, prisoners, and those with mental illnesses. Their raw, spontaneous and stunning creativity reminded me of the creative works of Sebastien, my 23-year-old autistic son.

Apart from his colourings and water colour paintings, Sebastien’s creative tendency is also manifested in the uneven and accented strokes in his handwriting and drawings. His practice of scotch-taping one layer of his completed colourings over another has certainly turned his bedroom wall in Singapore into an improvised art display. Until the exhibition when I witnessed the transformation of such techniques into fine art of exhibition standards, I had never considered Sebastien's tendencies to be particularly “art-worthy”.

Sebastien’s “first art-making meeting” with David Trevelyan, a passionate and talented Bali-based digital artist and sculptor, would prove to be yet another affirmation of Sebastien's natural creative tendencies. Everything David shared from the organic spontaneity of his artistic approaches to the crucial role that the immersion in the creative process plays in his overall well-being resonated so much with me.

During the session, David was like Sebastien’s enlightened interpreter giving voice to Sebastien's silent creativity, commenting about his use of colours to create gradations and textures. After looking at Sebastien’s colouring style over the last few years with my eyes of artistic ignorance, it was truly refreshing to hear an established artist pinpoint what was special about Sebastien’s artistic techniques.

Even more mind-blowing was how much David's demonstrations of his transformations of the simple, repetitive acts of filling in spaces and writing his name over one another with diverse orientations into art conveyed Sebastien's creative tendencies. With reference to himself, David explained that engaging in these acts provides a channel of expression that was at once creative and soothing for him. Through David's words, I could see how Sebastien's pure artistic tendency — doing art for art's sake — has constituted his creative outlet for survival in his challenging life. Looking at the two next to each other, I couldn't help but think that Sebastien might have found a highly-evolved kindred soul in David.

Just as significant was the safe and nurturing space that lay at the heart of this artistic experience. David’s studio, with a distinctively Balinese character, radiated a quietness and stillness that felt at once calming and protective. The respect and empathy that David and his hospitable wife, Rani, displayed towards us, particularly Sebastien, with their warm smiles and discreet queries, made us feel at home instantly. Although Sebastien was typically nervous about new spaces, people and experiences at close quarters, he was put at ease almost immediately.

Responding to my suggestion that Sebastien be given an activity to do, David laid out various implements for Sebastien to choose from — paper, pencil, and plastic stencils. Sebastien readily picked up one of the plastic stencils and drew with it handily without any prompting. Once Sebastien had finished drawing, David then brought out markers and colour pencils for Sebastien to decide what he wanted to do. Nothing was rushed or forced — Sebastien was given the freedom and space to choose his preferred markers, his familiar medium, and do his thing. David did everything carefully, constantly checking in with me to make sure that whatever he was fine with Sebastien, including sitting next to him.

The 90 minutes we had planned for the visit flew by. It was a liberating artistic foray that encapsulated the essence of empathy, capping our wonderful extended weekend with Sebastien. As he grows in his connectedness with all of us, thanks to his happy existence with his carers and community in Bali, an expanded exploration of Sebastien's connection with art promises to open another window into his soul.

Thank you, David and Rani!

As this amazing year winds to a close, we celebrate Sebastien’s raw art and the expression of his soul with our latest collection of SATIN shawls derived from his paintings!

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