Splashes of colour, magnificent sea life and countless creative portraits of the King of Rock and Roll are covering the walls of a local gallery in a celebration of the artistic talents being created at Greenacres Disability Services.
The Outsider Artists exhibition showcases hundreds of pieces of work by participants in the provider’s programs, giving them a platform to display their unique perspective to crowds from across the Illawarra.
Greenacres’ art therapist Victoria Velonza said the exhibition not only gave participants the opportunity to express themselves but also allowed them to connect with the community.
“They love it, they get a party and can celebrate the year, but underneath all that, people with disabilities don’t often integrate with the community and don’t have much opportunity to,” Victoria said. “This gives them a real venue to talk to the community and say, ‘That’s my work’ and ‘I did this’, and so it’s a real engagement in the community.
“It goes a long way to getting them accepted as artists in our community.”
The exhibition has become bigger and more impressive each year as Greenacres art therapy programs continue to grow in popularity.
“They come and love it so much that they tell their friends, and they come, and we don’t want to be turning anyone away, so it’s just got bigger than Ben Hur,” Victoria said. “I think we have 120 people come during the week and we don’t want to overcrowd the classes so we’re just extending and starting to run out of days now.”
“It started basically in the back of a shed at Berkeley; there was probably only about five or six participants and now, particularly with the NDIS coming in, it’s given people the opportunity to actually choose to do art as part of their lifestyle and therapy and it’s grown exponentially,” Greenacres CEO Chris Christodoulou said.
Artists dedicated time and passion to their creations throughout the year, and while they were given the freedom to pursue their own inspirations, one icon made a big impact.
“One of the participants, Kyrillos, is a mad Elvis fan. We often put Elvis music on in the studio,” Victoria said. “That first Elvis came up so beautifully and we hung it on the wall out the front and people would come in and go, ‘I want to do an Elvis’.”
“What I like about him is he’s entertaining, and I like rock and roll, he’s just special,” Kyrillos said. “I like the American music.
“And I like doing art because I’m very gifted at it.”
With Kyrillos’ work sparking inspiration, Victoria found the opportunity to turn the popular figure into a lesson.
“Although they do all the work, I like to teach them the skills of painting,” she said. “I was saying things like, ‘When you look at a portrait, things get lighter as they get closer, so you have to do the nose and the eyebrows and the chin in the lighter tone.’
“I was trying to teach them about that and thought, well everyone wants Elvis, let’s go with Elvis.”
The project led to around 100 portraits of Elvis, each with a unique twist, covering the wall of the gallery.
“It is spectacular because it shows Elvis in many different configurations and moods and colours,” Mr Christodoulou said. “It’s a great mural actually.”
But the exhibition is not all about Elvis and there’s certainly something for everyone.
Daniella Lagzio said she liked to paint everything and anything but for this show her work was inspired by a colourful background she saw each day.
“I liked it when I saw it on my iPad,” she said. “I also like making the necklaces and painting all the stuff.”
Fellow artist Alexia Waldon has an affinity with sea life, which is reflected in her pieces.
“I’ve got the jellyfish painting, which has already sold, because my niece Vivian loves jellyfish and so it was a tribute to Viv,” Alexia said.
“It took a while because all the texture and a lot of work goes into it and the fish one was a bit more work as well.”
She’s already planning her next artwork and sticking with the same theme.
“I would love to try to do a dolphin.”
Even when Alexia expands her artistic horizons, she finds a way to sneak in a tribute to her love for animals.
“I love cats as well and with the Elvis artwork I did, I put a little cat face in it.”
Alexia’s jellyfish artwork was one of about 50 pieces that sold within the first hour of the exhibition opening.
And some of the pieces are even being used by Wollongong City Council to be placed on planter boxes to liven up the city.
But for most participants it’s not about the money or glory, just the recognition of all their hard work.
“I’m really proud, I’m really proud of obviously our artists, the participants, but I’m really proud of the organisation and how we actually make this happen for them,” Mr Christodoulou said.
“From my perspective in our 70th year, I couldn’t be a prouder CEO.”
The exhibition will be on at Project Contemporary Artspace in Wollongong until 1 October, with most artworks ranging in price from $25 to $125.