Toronto

Autistic artist about to jump from canvas to fashion runway

A Toronto teenager, who has sold dozen of his paintings worldwide and is about to have his work featured by a Canadian fashion designer, only picked up a paintbrush a year ago as part of his therapy for autism.

Collectors worldwide who want Niam Jain's paintings can see them on the catwalk this Spring

Niam Jain, 13, an abstract artist with autism, works at home studio. He has sold more than 50 paintings to collectors worldwide and is now branching out into fashion. (CBC)

He only picked up a paintbrush one year ago as part of his therapy for autism, but a Toronto teenager has now sold dozens of paintings worldwide and will soon have his work featured by a Canadian fashion designer.

Niam Jain, 13, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder — a social communication disorder — at the age of two, and still has minimal speech and comprehension skills. But give him a brush and some paint, and he communicates expressively.

Jain gets a hand from his mother, Nina, as he works on one piece. The teen has earned some $50,000 from his painting. (CBC)

"At first, I would share his paintings through social media with family and friends," his mother, Nina Jain, told CBC Toronto. 

"Then people starting offering money to buy them."

Serious money.

Toronto teen Niam Jian, 13, is an autistic artist who has sold dozens of paintings worldwide and is about to have his work featured by Canadian fashion designer Evan Bidell. 1:00

Collectors from around the world began offering thousands of dollars to acquire Jain's work. So far, Jain estimates he's sold 50 paintings and earned some $50,000.

Canadian designer Evan Bidell recently invited the Jains to the Darling Mansion, in Toronto's west end, to discuss plans to turn the young artist's work into clothing. (Barry Smith/CBC)

Jain's paintings also caught the eye of Evan Bidell, a well-known Toronto-based fashion designer who hopes to weave the teen's work into future designs. Bidell, the first winner of Project Runway Canada, hopes to make 10 dresses based on Jain's art in time for the Fashion Art Toronto in April — a show that coincides with Autism Awareness Month.

"A chance to work with an artist this unique is exciting," said Biddell.

As part of their collaboration, Biddell recently invited Jain to the Darling Mansion, an 1888 Victorian manor in Toronto's west end where he keeps a studio space. Jain raced around the mansion, inspecting its eccentric array of artwork, collectibles and curios.

A sample from Evan Bidell's More Than Human Spring show in 2015. (Jonathan Hooper )

Biddell enjoyed watching the young artist soak up the inspiration.

"I've had goose bumps the whole time. I get excited and inspired by the people I meet," said Bidell.

The designer's plan is to tranfer Jain's art onto fabric using a company in the Junction neighbourhood. From there, Bidell will shape them into a range of garments. 

Bidell said one of his clients, Ann Kaplan, the CEO and President of iFinance Canada Inc., has already asked for a piece featuring Jain's art that she can wear to the Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards.

Jain's mother said art has given her son a chance to show off his true potential. (Barry Smith/CBC)

Nina Jain said the attention has been a good thing for her son, and could help others in his position.

"There are so many families out there with autistic kids, and they don't know what to do next," she said.

"Showcasing what the potential is ... I think is important."