This Sudbury, Ont. artist has autism and is non-verbal, but that hasn't stopped him

Morgan Kitching, of Sudbury, Ont., has autism and is non-verbal, but he's also an artist and has pieces on display in galleries across northern Ontario.

Much of Morgan Kitching’s art focuses on nature, with paintings of windswept trees and bright flowers

A young man wearing a fedora standing next to a painting of green trees.
Morgan Kitching, 21, shows one of his latest paintings of trees in bold, green brush strokes. (Kate Rutherford/CBC)

Morgan Kitching first picked up a paint brush four years ago, and now his work is on display in galleries across northern Ontario.

Morgan is autistic and non-verbal, but through his art he has found a new way to share his emotions and open up, according to his mom, Trish Kitching.

"When he paints I think he's just letting out his feelings," she said. "He's relaxed, he's calm."

Kitching is also a painter and studied fine art in university. She always had painting supplies around the house, but said Morgan never showed an interest, until recently.

"But I should never have doubted him, because he surprises me every day," she said.

A woman sitting in a room surrounded by bright paintings.
Morgan's mom, Trish Kitching, says she has seen him become more social since he started painting. She sits in front of two of Morgan's paintings. (Kate Rutherford/CBC)

One day, she and Morgan were at her partner Pierre Sabourin's studio in Killarney, Ont., when the power went out.

Sabourin is a painter and longtime arts educator. With distractions out of the way, Morgan gravitated to his paint brushes.

"I believe he was able to express himself through colour," Sabourin said.

He asked Morgan what makes him happy, and so he painted Sunset Rock, not far from the Killarney studio.

Much of Morgan's work is focused on nature. Sabourin's studio is now full of canvas with Killarney's windswept trees and bright flowers made with big, bold strokes.

A painting with three figures dancing under the stars.
In this painting, Morgan Kitching expresses his favourite Bee Gees song, "You Should be Dancing." (Pierre Sabourin/Facebook)

But Sabourin said his emotions also come through his work.

He described one painting in which Morgan expressed his favourite song by the Bee Gees, You Should be Dancing

"He painted three people dancing, and if you'll notice, they all have large feet and they even have fire shooting out of them," Sabourin said.

"What makes this very unique is the fact that he included a sunset with stars and the stars seemed to be dancing as well."

Sabourin said the three people are Morgan, his mother and himself.

A man in a suit sitting next to a bright orange painting.
Pierre Sabourin, an artist and painter, pictured here alongside one of his own works, has mentored Morgan and helped him become an artist in his own right. (Kate Rutherford/CBC)

'I believe art changes the chemicals in the brain'

Kitching said she also started to see positive changes in Morgan's behaviour when he started painting.

"I believe that art changes the chemicals of the brain," she said.

Morgan has become more social since he started to express himself through art, she said. And his eating habits have also improved.

"It's incredible because children with autism, or youth, or adults with autism have difficult diets. You can ask anybody," she said.

"They may only eat one specific thing. Two things, three things."

But now she said Morgan is much more adventurous with his diet.

"But he'll put away a whole pizza, a whole of garlic bread and a salad in one sitting. And before all he did was grilled cheese," Kitching said.

Now Morgan's art is on display in galleries across Ontario, including Sudbury, North Bay, Noëlville and Hawkesbury.

There's also a short documentary that celebrates his growth as an artist with autism.

"I've actually called the National Gallery of Canada and they've sent me an application to apply to have his work submitted," Kitching said.

"Go big or go home, right?"

With files from Kate Rutherford