Ophelia Riley art exhibition makes case for people living with autism

Ophelia Riley art exhibition makes case for people living with autism

May 10, 2018

Elena Korniakova, Executive Director of the Lawrence Heights Art Centre and Chief Curator of the Wonders of the Mind exhibition, comments on Ophelia’s painting.

People living with Autism Spectrum Disorder have incredible talents and are capable. This was the message the organizer of Wonders of the Mind,  Lawrence Heights Art Centre (LHAC), was determined to share with the public during a week-long art show, held at Toronto’s City Hall, April 16-20, 2018, to celebrate the work of Ophelia Riley.

Ophelia is a resident of Lawrence Heights and member of the LHAC, living with severe Autism. She is 23 and non-verbal. Over the past few years, she has dedicated about 18 hours daily to drawing and painting and has created more than four thousand art pieces. Ophelia’s unique artistic talent has captured the interests of many artists and art enthusiasts of the LHAC, many of whom are admirers of Art Brut or “raw art” — an international art movement that represents self-taught artists created outside the mainstream traditions of fine art.

From left – Christopher Riley, Ophelia Riley and Anna Riley.

Organizers and guests at the Wonders of the Mind exhibition.

In his article “Art Brut and the visionary landscapes of Ophelia Riley,” Ian Ferguson, Dr. of Philosophy and Literature and a special guest at the exhibition, describes Ophelia’s work as an expression of her vision of the world.

“We tend to believe in literature as a mean of communication but drawing is another form of communication,” says Ian. “Ophelia’s need to express herself through this drawings is her direct response to the world that she appears not to regard at all. She works hard every day to capture a vision of the world that surrounds her.”  

Despite Ophelia’s limitation to make friends, her work has become a source of inspiration for aspiring artists living across Toronto Community Housing, including Ashna Parbatie and Tina Austin, whose art works were also featured at the exhibition.  

“I noticed Ophelia’s characters are always happy, always smiling and very colourful,” said Ashna. “While enlarging and transferring Ophelia’s images onto wooden canvases for the exhibit display, I really had to pay attention to the lines and how to make these characters come to life. It was a very interesting way to get into Ophelia’s head to see how she does art.”

Ashna Parbatie standing next to one of her enlarged copies of Ophelia’s images

From left – Community Services Coordinator Larry Freedlander and TCHC tenant Tina Austin.

Tina, a resident of Glendower Circuit who also volunteers to teach young people in her community about art, said that parents play an important role in providing the right environment for autistic children to express themselves creatively.

“For the most part, I spend every day to teach my son who is autistic the routines and rules about life. I use art personally as a way to relax, for him to express himself on paper and for us to connect with each other,” said Tina. 

The organizer of Wonders of the Mind encourages parents and guardians who may have children living with different forms of mental challenges to come out to tell their own stories.