Using art as an outlet to heal himself and others
The walls of the Schwartz home in Andover are covered with colorful, abstract pieces of art. It’s not because Michael and Janet Schwartz are art buffs, though they do appreciate it. Their son, Alex, 25, has autism and uses art as a form of therapy that teaches him independent thinking and ways to express himself. Now two of his works will be featured in Lahey Hospital & Medical Center’s Healing Art Program.
Alex’s studio in the home’s lower level is his space to create, experiment with new media and display his art. He heads straight to the studio every afternoon, working to a soundtrack of classical, country, and rock music as he makes colorful and complicated creations out of paint, crayon, cardboard and other materials. Every wall is adorned with one of his works, signed by the artist himself.
“His art is layered, intricate and unexpected,” said Alex’s art teacher, Andrew Royce Fournier, who goes by his middle name. They spend a few hours every Sunday building up Alex’s skills. “I tell him he can do anything.”
Alex started by making shapes and colors and moved on to drawing specific memories, like a trip to the aquarium or the time he and his father caught the Chinese New Year parade in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood. He practiced drawing objects, like a toy train, in order to learn perspective and how to bring real things to life. Now Alex can create complicated designs that stand out and allow him to express himself.
Before Alex picked up pen and paintbrush, he would constantly look to adults for direction, according to his parents. Art has taught him independence. “He may be able to help other autistic children just by the process of opening up and creating something beautiful,” his father, Michael said.
Two of Alex’s pieces are on display in the main hallway at Lahey. They are part of the “Inspiration Collection,” which showcases artists who have overcome a health condition, mental illness or other hardship. The goal of this installation is to brighten the day of every single patient, visitor, doctor, nurse and staff member who passes by. The aptly named Healing Art Program is an effort funded completely by generous donors.
The way Alex focuses on a piece, you would think he’d been an artist his whole life. But he only started working with the canvas about three years ago.
Anne Strickland, CEO of Great American Art, the company that curated the installation at Lahey, says Alex has a unique style. “It’s just so amazing that whatever’s going on inside Alex, whatever is going on inside his head, he’s put it out there for us to see this world in such a creative and beautiful and bright and colorful way,” Strickland said. “And I just find that so inspiring.”
While he may not show it outwardly, Alex admits he’s excited that so many people will enjoy his pieces and appreciate the hard work he puts in every day in his studio. His mother, Janet, asked him, “Isn’t that a great thing?” He responded with a resounding “yes,” while keeping his laser focus on the canvas in front of him.