Winnipeg artist inspired but not defined by his autism
Ryan Smoluk is 'an amazing artist,' says his mentor and teacher
As Ryan Smoluk gears up for his debut commercial exhibit, which opens on Friday, the Winnipeg visual artist hopes people will see past labels about living with autism.
The mixed-media works in Smoluk's exhibit, Culture Shock, explore issues such as popular culture and the effects of technology on society.
"It's a recurring theme in a lot of the pieces, like industrialism, materialism, consumerism, Frankensteined together to get all these crazy pieces," he said.
"I like to have as many layers as I can and people wondering, 'How does he do this? This is insane. This guy has to be nuts,'" he added with a laugh.
Art has been a longtime labour of love, said Smoluk, who added that autism has informed his work.
"When I was a young kid, it was hard to communicate with people," he said. "I guess through my artwork, it allowed me to bridge that gap."
But when asked about people who may refer to him as an "autistic artist," Smoluk replied, "They're entitled to their opinion. Labels, you know, they change all the time.
"If it's about them coming here to check out the piece, and then definitively reflecting on this piece, and I think that's the most important thing about this show, not the title."
'Lovely energy and determination'
The exhibit is curated by established artist Diana Thorneycroft, who has been mentoring Smoluk since she taught him at the University of Manitoba art school in 2009.
"Ryan is an artist who has autism. He's not an autistic person who happens to be an artist," said Thorneycroft.
"For me, that's really, really important that first and foremost, he's this amazing artist who happens to have this condition that contributes lovely energy and determination and complexity to his pieces."
She added that while Smoluk learned to communicate through his art, he still had to learn how to communicate with people outside of art.
"He worked really, really hard at learning to speak and learning to make eye contact and learning to not cringe when someone hugs him," she said, "Really, he's an amazing guy."
Culture Shock opens on Friday at 7 p.m. at Actual Gallery at 300 Ross Ave. in Winnipeg. It runs until July 23.
With files from Ismaila Alfa