Artist Michael Tollenson has always credited his Asperger’s syndrome for his obvious skills with a brush. He has absolutely no formal training, but after two years of solid painting, in June 2013, he had filled his seattle gallery to the brim with a series of wonderous takes on people, life and a refreshing realness rarely found in modern brushmanship.
A vast number of his paintings can be found on his Facebook page, but he also runs the Michael Tollenson Savant Art Centre in Kent, Washington, where he has set up a teaching centre for children to learn the skills of painting, and create their own masterpieces.
Recently he has been creating photos inspired by Peter Wilkin’s photos of the Rucksack Project, depicting the apathy of society towards homelessness.
I will let the man himself explain these pieces of art work to you:
“I know that I usually write a long descriptions about each painting and chronicle challenges and my own views through autism, but this painting is about something different. A Facebook friend of mine named Peter Wilkin, who lives in the UK uses his iPhone to capture wonderful photos that he then digitally enhances. He created a series of photos capturing the homeless. This painting is inspired by one of his incredible photos, and to Peter, I am grateful for the opportunity and for being given the permission to use his photo as a doorway to my new artwork. I think autism and particularly Asperger’s Syndrome makes me and many others like me almost empathic and overwhelmed by emotions. I truly felt Peter’s photo very deeply of a homeless man who was ignored by the passing crowd. Compassion and sadness fueled my soul and I felt compelled to create something that honors “Those Who Are Forgotten”.”
The best way I know to create and to purge my soul is to lay myself out vulnerable for all to see and understand. Here is what I have come to understand… I am blessed. My life is more than I could ever have imagined it to be. Every day I can go to my art studio and paint, and we have our own mentoring art center attached that helps our students on the autism spectrum have a safe place and a sense of community. We touch lives in positive ways, and we truly will leave a lasting influence on the earth when we leave. My art sells, we have great Facebook friends, a roof over our heads, and food to eat….and STILL most days I FRET. I think if I had to pinpoint the aspect of my autistic condition that annoys and saddens me the most, it would be this tendency to not be able to just BE. I worry about yesterday, tomorrow, the future, what will happen “if” and what will happen “when”… all the unknowns in my life that I cannot ever know until they happen. Following a fret, is a “spin”…that moment when it is no longer me projecting and forecasting, but instead it has become a fixation on a single thought that will not go away. The thought spins and spins in my head becoming ever larger with nothing concrete to make it a truth, but nonetheless real in my mind and of course very important. The anxiety and panic surrounding it escalate. There is no cure for the fret, for there is no cause for the fret…and the spin continues. If by chance I am able to step outside of myself, usually by me sharing the concern that I am “spinning” about with someone else, then I have a chance to end the “madness” and come to a place where I realize that it is contrived in my own mind and nothing is concrete or real. This is a constant daily battle within myself with no cure since it is part of my autistic wiring. Today I have learned to do my best to move beyond the fretting and spinning as quickly as possible. But even with my efforts to manage this, there are many days that after coming to terms with a disagreeable episode of this condition’s angst, fretting and spins, I sigh and think wouldn’t it be nice to have “A Vacation from Ourselves”.
Autism Daily Newscast would like to thank Michael Tollenson for the use of his painting entitled ‘The Yellow Slicker’ from his People’s series of paintings as our cover for the March Issue of ASDigest.