The Art of John Michaels and Darren Murray


shakespeare nat king cole2The Unknowing Hand, A Story of Autism and Artistry

Croton Falls, NY. September 25, 2010. This exhibit illustrated the remarkable relationship between Darren Murray, a nonverbal teen with ASD, and his special-ed  art teacher John Michaels, during two years of intensive work and an ongoing period of development in Murray’s art-making.  In a series of drawings done side-by-side, we see the result of Murray imitating Michaels’ actions as Michaels copied a portrait from a textbook or magazine.  While Murray was unable to directly copy a picture (or to draw much on his own), the pencil marks he made with rapid, imitative arm-hand movements produced complete portraits very similar to Michaels’ drawings.  How much did Murray comprehend when he was making these pictures? It is safe to assume that he understood Michaels when the teacher asked him to copy: he looked at an original, used a pencil and drew a crude likeness on paper.  But what happened when he was focused on imitating Michaels’s actions—thus creating pictures with an ‘unknowing hand’—provoked plenty of questions about what was going on in Murray’s brain.

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I would like to direct viewers to the spit and fire that Darren brings to the subjects. Why did he make an inbred count’s head minuscule? Why does Churchill have this huge staring eye?  A couple who might have a strained relationship, look even more ill at ease in Darren’s interpretation. I think he has the natural gift of bringing out the personality of the subject he is drawing. There are too many of these examples, each one treated differently, to be accidental or a piece of luck. Once maybe, but all these works and each bringing forth a completely different and unique personality trait?  From my perspective, he has the gift of perception”.

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— writes Lift Trucks Project director Tom Christopher.

The U.S. population is now in the neighborhood of 309,780,000.  The growing consensus among neuroscientists is that one in every 100 children has a brain with an autism spectrum disorder, or ASD.  And each of these roughly 3.098 million young people, while sharing certain neurological, behavioral and sometimes genetic characteristics with the others, is still an individual whose disorder presents itself uniquely from all of them. To help sort through the immense amount of ever-changing data on ASD, show curator Debra Browne called on neuroscientist Eric J. Moody, Post-Doctoral Fellow from the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities Research at the University of Colorado, Denver.  Additional information came from numerous sources including science journalist Claudia Wallis’ Educating Autism website. The Westchester Exceptional Children’s School (WEC) is a year round New York State approved special education day facility located in North Salem N.Y.

Children challenged by autism, emotional disturbances, multiple handicaps and children who are medically fragile ages 5-21 from Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, Orange counties and including 25 from New York City attend WEC. WEC’s goal since 1969 has remained unchanged: “To reach, teach, and rehabilitate children once considered uneducable.”  For further information, contact the gallery at info@ltproject.com.

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