Written by Erin Lobner. Media by Courtney Murphy.
Meet Seth Chwast, a talented 32-year-old painter and sculptor, who is an inspiration to more than just the art community. Diagnosed with autism at a young age, Chwast lived his life mostly non-verbally–unable to engage in language the same way his family did. However, when he was 20, he took his first oil painting class and unlocked his own form of expression. Chwast has since become internationally recognized for his colorful works and well-known by the autism community.
Chwast utilizes various materials in his vibrant pieces and he applies styles such as Primitive Art, Abstract Expressionism, Surrealism and Pop Art. While many of his works are fantastical (i.e. Chupacabras and Hippocamps), the rest are inspired by things he experiences in his day-to-day life and on trips to Costa Rica and New York. His paintings include content such as marine life, New York cityscapes, flowers, horses, portraits and abstract shapes and patterns.
While many of Chwast’s paintings seem chaotic at first glance, they tend to have an underlying structure or symmetry. His sculptures can be described as colorful, creative and playful. And if you look close enough, you might see the creatures he sculpts are identical to those in his paintings, down to the last detail.
Interestingly enough, Chwast’s consistently paints most of his art in 2-dimensional view. Even his multifaceted paintings of New York are as flat as a photograph. Dr. Temple Grandin, who has autism herself and is known for her livestock research and autism activism, said she thinks in pictures. So the glimpse through the eyes of autism provided by Chwast is not all that surprising, but it is stunning.
Chwast’s mother Debra wrote, “An Unexpected Life: A Mother and Son’s Story of Love, Determination, Autism and Art” detailing her and her son’s experiences. She is very involved in Chwast’s progress and is one of the main facilitators in his education, exhibits and visits to various organizations. The work she does to help her son succeed is nothing short of amazing, but she simply says “I wanted him to have meaning in his life, admiration, a sense of accomplishment.”
Since he began painting in 2003, Chwast has produced more than 600 works of art. In the past, he teamed up with many museums and organizations, but he and his mother have a soft spot for nonprofits like Autism Speaks. Chwast created a painting for one of
Autism Speaks’ Light it up Blue events to raise awareness of autism in 2012. Then last year he was selected to be part of The Guitar Project by Bai and Zac Brown Band. Bai found five unique artists to design guitars in order to “support the ability for music and art to enable people to unearth their true, authentic selves.”
If you aren’t in love with Seth Chwast yet, then check out his website or view his complete works on Flikr . And if you want to find out more about autism and how you can help raise awareness, visit the Autism Speaks page.