A room full of his works, testament to how self-limiting barriers can be brought down, will be presented in a one-man show hosted by the Upper Valley Art League. The opening reception will be held on Saturday, July 13, from 7 to 9 p.m., and his works will be on display through Aug. 7 in the UVAL gallery.
A very special part of the evening’s program will feature a demonstration with Rivera creating a new piece that night.
The 42-year-old Rivera was born with autism in 1971 at a time when virtually nothing was understood about the condition. In his early years of school, Anthony was numbered as one in every 10,000 people with the condition. That number is now one in 50. He was the only child in his school with autism.
Time, experience and changing attitudes started the process of redefining barriers and gave Rivera an opportunity to bring his talent to the forefront. The doors of opportunity were largely pushed open by his mother Diana Rivera.
Diana didn’t accept the doctor’s prognosis for her son’s future, and she realized from the beginning that she had to do something to make life the best she could for them.
When Anthony was three years old, she set out on a college path that would give her the financial stability she needed for them. She not only finished college but also finished law school with the help of her father Santos Rivera who cared for Anthony for many years. He requires round-the-clock supervision.
In 2008 another barrier presented itself. It was a difficult year for Anthony. His grandfather died and he lost the steady hand of the only male figure in his life.
Diana searched for a way to fill the void and to give him something on which to hold.
It was then that Anthony’s turn came to attend college, something he had watched his mother do for years.
Now retired from her law career, Diana enrolled Anthony in a South Texas College arts course in 2009. Growing up with his mother’s college-attending example fixed in his understanding, he eagerly expected a trip to the store for his school backpack and the necessary supplies. His purchased “supply list” soon covered the gamut of colors available in the store along with paper and a myriad of brushes.
The dam burst his very first day of class and Anthony’s life exceeded the pre-determined boundaries of belief and perception.
The day’s assignment: paint a black and white piece of a chair. Anthony completed it in 15 minutes. Some students took the entire semester. Actually, he finished four paintings the first day. The total semester’s assignment: four art pieces. Anthony completed 40 by the end of the term.
But the real story of his talent and incredible gift came to consciousness that first day.
As Anthony’s constant companion, Diana attended class with him to assist as needed. When he completed the first assignment so quickly, she went to the instructor, Richard Smith, and asked what Anthony was to do next.
Befuddled, Smith looked at the painting in disbelief and inquired if she had helped him. She replied that she had only helped him to get his paints ready.
Smith said, “Let’s go outside and paint a tree.”
The three ventured out, and the two watched while Anthony painted a tree—and the grass—and the building behind the tree—and the sunlight coming through the leaves on the tree. He did it in five minutes.
Smith commented to Diana, “You need to start investing in canvas and some serious paint.”
He went on to explain to her not only the depth of Anthony’s gift, but Anthony’s perceptive understanding and expression in his work through color combination, composition, flow and depth.
Anthony quickly found his preferred technique for painting at the beginning of that course. It’s his hands.
After the first two paintings, he put the brushes down and started squeezing the paint into his hands to allow his creative juices to flow more freely. Smith quickly cautioned Diana that the paint could be toxic, so they dropped the brushes and changed to using gloves and acrylic paint.
Smith observed and commented to her that the pair works like a surgical team. She puts on Anthony’s gloves. He chooses the color which she squeezes onto his hands. If mixing colors, he does it in his hand, not on an artist’s palette. Diana tries to have all colors available on hand to not frustrate his processes.
And there is another special component to Anthony’s processes. He loves music which serves as his inspiration and focus.
Individuals with autism most often have difficulty with sensory overload, especially sound and light. For Anthony, the music on headphones helps to diminish the unwanted stimulation—and the pain often associated with it.
With over 1000 CD’s in his music library, he will spend a great deal of time selecting the music before producing his next painting.
She now says, “If I had known he was such a good painter, I would have started it long before.”
Her experience with her son has been the impetus for her involvement in a helping to develop a new organization, The ARTS of Texas (Autism Resources, Training & Support). Their mission is to develop a facility with an art studio, music room and dance room where autistic individuals can flourish in a facility designed for their needs and sensitivities. It is planned to be self-sustaining, solar powered and a shelter for storms, which can be very stressful for persons with autism due to the loud noises.
Art will be sold at the opening reception on July 13, and refreshments will be served. UVAL is located in the Kika de la Garza Fine Arts Center, 921 E. 12th St. in Mission next to Speer Memorial Library. Call 583-2787 for more information about the exhibit or for gallery hours.
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