Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Art and Autism

I first heard about Andrew when I was working at Leith School of Art in 2004. Andrew had been attending classes since the school opened in 1989. His style is unmistakable in that he has an absolute unwavering attention to detail. For example, whereas the other students will create expressive representations with paint of the plants used in a still life setup, Andrew will paint every single leaf. He also doesn't really like anyone standing too close to him, although I’m kind of the same in that respect when I’m painting. However, it's the way Andrew views AND captures the world in paint that makes him such a unique artist.

I’ve always been fascinated with Andrew’s art and although I rarely ever saw him because I only worked Saturday’s at the school, I would immediately recognise his oil paintings before anyone else’s as they hung on the wall drying with all the other students' work.

About a month ago I was at my local café that I visit religiously every morning for a much needed strong coffee before work and John, the "white van man" (who is also usually there every morning for his caffeine fix) mentioned that he had a load of artwork to be picked up at a flat in town and he wondered if Art in Healthcare would like it. He said the artist’s father had just died and as the artist was autistic, and his mother was also no longer alive, the estate was being sorted out by a law firm. John was hired to go to the residence to organise, document and pack up all the belongings and the lawyers weren't sure what to do with the rooms full or art. No one else seemed to want it.  

Just out of curiosity as I figured it was rather highly unlikely, I asked John, “Do you know if the artist is called Andrew Gilchrist?” I couldn't believe it when he said he was. John explained that it was Andrew’s father who kept all the work and Andrew really didn’t have much to do with it after he finished it. I assume Andrew enjoys the process of creating more than having a completed artwork to look at. At least this is what I think. I have a lot of questions and I plan on meeting with Andrew’s main teacher at the art school to find out a little more. The lawyer in charge of the estate provided me with the email address of Andrew's cousin, who will also hopefully be able to give me a little more information about Andrew and his painting. 

So here we are now. Art in Healthcare has a huge body of artwork (literally hundreds of pieces) by a very unique and talented artist. I would very much like to organise an exhibition to showcase this wonderful work but also to try to shed some light on how autistic artists engage with the world and the positive affect creativity has with regards to health and wellbeing. 

I think Andrew’s work is important. It tells an exciting story and it provides some insight into autism. I plan to apply for funding to help with costs such as framing the work, securing a venue, perhaps a book, advertising etc. We'll possibly accession some of Andrew's artwork into the Art in Healthcare Collection to display in hospitals and then we'll be selling the rest of the work to raise funds for the charity and to help cover exhibition costs. I'm sure a lot of people would love to have an original A. Gilchrist in their homes to admire. I don't know what Andrew's financial situation is but it would be nice to give something back to him if the exhibition was successful. If you have any questions, advice, suggestions etc please don’t hesitate to contact me at tjones@artinhealthcare.org.uk

Trevor Jones

Executive Director

Art in Healthcare

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