This exhibition brings together two arts organizations, PVA and RoCA. PVA was founded in 2002 by The Shield Institute, a non-profit organization, providing services and support for New Yorkers with autism and other developmental disabilities. PVA would become the first such studio in NYC, modeled after the very successful Creative Growth Studio in San Francisco. The mission is to support and serve men and woman with developmental challenges by providing them with a studio solely for the purpose of providing the space and materials needed to create each of their very unique artistic visions, and, in turn, enhance their natural talents and self esteem.
RoCA, located in West Nyack, NY, also has a long, distinguished history. It was founded in 1947 by a group of renowned artists, including Aaron Copland, Paulette Goddard, Kurt Weill, Lotte Lenya, Maxwell Anderson and Helen Hayes. Their intention was to create a new cultural center outside of the City.
Lynn Stein, the creative director of RoCA, and Peter Artin, associate curator of this exhibition, contacted Dr. Pamala Rogers of PVA with their vision for a show featuring the artists of PVA and arranged to come to the studio for a viewing. What they saw inspired them even further. As Stein recalls, the art showed “a sureness of hand and vision, a very clear, self-assured, spontaneous eruption that often looks naïve but also reflects sophistication.”
Stein and Artin selected works from thirteen artists: Nicole Appel, Oscar Azmitia, William Britt, Susan Brown, Chris Chronopoulos, Chase Ferguson, Barry Kahn, Chris Martin, Walter Mika, Eric Sadowsky, Alba Somoza, and Dennis Yee. There is also a special showing of Elisa Huberman’s video of her children’s book “The Odd Duckling”. The common thread throughout this exhibition is the uncommon expressions of the artists’ personal, inner vision of their own world. The images they use to express this vision often emanate from their day-to-day life and feature ordinary referents from television, movies, magazines, comic books, travel, and food.
The exhibit is marked with the signpost which states the following: “Pure Vision expands our perception of what makes an artist an artist while embracing their innate intuition, imagination and perseverance. The twelve featured artists belong to a community that categorizes them, but does not define them…”
Upon entering the space, you find yourself presented with the lively colors of self-taught, still life and landscape painter William Britt. Britt, who spent 34 years in the infamous Willowbrook State School in Staten Island and now lives and works in his own home/studio in upstate New York. His masterful, intricately detailed paintings in the folk art tradition have garnered him several awards, including a Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation Award in 1986 for Outstanding Artistic Achievement. At a presentation at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, Maya Angelou read her poem, “William Britt” to honor Britt’s contribution and experiences. His medium is typically oil on board and his subjects come from the inspiration of the surrounding landscapes and his own memory and imagination.
In addition, scattered throughout the main gallery are the works of Walter Mika. His pieces typically focus on a singular figure with large eyes that dare to captivate onlookers. His expressionistic, figurative works are highly sought for private collections. His mediums include oil pastels and crayons on canvas, wood, Masonite, and paper. As described on PVA’s website, “Mika’s personality, like his art, is colorful and wonderfully uninhibited. His freedom of expression and ability to be open, trusting and joyful is delightful and this purity, innocence and love of life are reflected in his drawings.” Though Mika’s verbal communication is limited, his visual communication often conveys his perception of the current images he sees in contemporary life. For instance, his figure in green is actually a reference to an accumulative impression that began with 9/11 and continued with the Iraq War. When asked what the green figure represented, he immediately answered “army.”
Another unique and captivating aspect of the show is Oscar Azmitia’s work. Art has always been an important outlet for Azmitia, who began drawing at the age of five. Beginning with painting biblical scriptures accompanied with illustrations, Azmitia combined his interest in comic book stories with his religious faith. Every painting is highly detailed and each has its own message. His messages are clever and often satirical. Azmitia uses found objects such as vintage records, discarded VHS boxes and coins as a surface for miniature paintings. His enamel portraits on coins include Star Wars characters, aging super heroes, and cartoon characters. In the main gallery Azmitia is represented by two large groupings of his enamel paintings, one on vintage vinyl records and one on VHS boxes. On one of Azmitia’s vinyl records entitled “What’s In A Cigarette”, he cleverly presents his case against cigarettes and the addiction of smoking. The record is divided into sections and each section reveals another ‘ingredient’ present in a cigarette accompanied by a clever image and statement. For instance the ingredient ‘Acetone’ is illustrated with a bottle of nail polish remover with the statement “A Nail In Your Coughin.”
“Beautiful Minds – Pure Vision” clearly shows that the universe within a single person can be visualized and though expressing a private world, it often touches and inspires the universal in each individual viewer.