The brush strokes hold to the canvas broad and thick, dense with texture, vibrant in greens and blues and oranges, crystalizing the life that hides away in Jeremy Sicile-Kira’s mind — buried deep, formed in dreams and brought into being by sole virtue of those weighty, resolute strokes.
Jeremy’s art is of emotion translated into a palette of pure color, each portrait unique to the people inspiring it. While his words come haltingly, the world he describes — whether in word or in portrait — is of art in maybe its purest form, untainted by the burdens of a more conventional mind.
“I see people as bright colors. I see some greatly dark colors, but I chose only to paint good colors to remind kindly the client to behave as a really great person,” he said last week in his Del Mar apartment, spelling out responses by pointing to a cardboard alphabet held in turns by his mother or by one of the aides who stay with him in his Del Mar apartment.
Five years have passed since Jeremy embarked on his artistic journey, painting portraits of people — and now, places — that have brought widespread accolades. Long passed is the MTV documentary about his struggles and triumphs as a nonverbal autistic student at Torrey Pines High School. Long passed is the casual, almost accidental, discovery of his synesthesia, a condition in which, for Jeremy, emotions and memories manifest as colors. Long passed is the dream he had one night — a prophecy, perhaps — of staging his own art show, never mind the fact that he had never before put paint to canvas. Long passed is the spate of news reports heralding the miraculous autistic painter who made that dream come true.
His energies now are focused on the labor of craft and building his clientele, on the day-to-day endeavor of seeing his work stand on its own merits, on the excitement for this weekend’s ArtWalk festival in Liberty Station, where he’ll take his hard-earned place in one of San Diego’s largest art shows. Jeremy, now 28, is too busy forging a livelihood to bother with novelty.
“People don’t say ‘Van Gogh, the artist with schizophrenia,’” said his mother Chantal Sicile-Kira, who has been an authority on autism since before her son was born. “Jeremy isn’t an artist with autism. He’s an artist.”
Jeremy’s journey has come a long way since the trio of canvas boards his mother gave him after converting her home office in Carmel Valley into a studio. Elizabeth Wepsic, chair of the visual arts department at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, worked with him at length to develop a style that makes the most out of his physical limitations. He’s now worked for some 120 clients, painting portraits of everyone from his caretakers to his aide dog Handsome to his depiction of Gov. Jerry Brown that hangs in a Sacramento museum. And he now rents out his own studio at Space4Art in San Diego’s East Village, where he summons inspiration six days a week, tirelessly giving life to the visions he holds inside.
That devotion will come to bear in a way it never has before this weekend at his booth at ArtWalk, an opportunity made possible by the grant he won this summer from the California Arts Council and the National Arts and Disability Center at UCLA. His gratitude is such that 5 percent of his sales will go to ArtReach, ArtWalk’s nonprofit partner, which has given free art classes to more than 20,000 students across the county.
Befitting so big an occasion, Jeremy will debut a series of paintings inspired by some of his favorite San Diego places — Safari Park, Swami’s Garden, Little Italy, and, of course, a painting that evokes the many mornings he’s spent on the beach in Del Mar, setting up cones with the lifeguards and going on long walks.
“Truly I just feel the energy of the waves and ocean, mighty in its power,” he said.
That’s what makes this coming weekend so vital: the chance to cement his legitimacy as an artist in front of the 2,000-plus art lovers expected to fill Liberty Station across the two days.
“Truly I like to see their facial expressions, I like to hear their voices,” he said. “And frankly I see their colors.”
ArtWalk is open to the public free of charge, on Saturday, Aug. 12 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 13 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Art District at Liberty Station, 2751 Dewey Road in Point Loma. Learn more at www.artwalksandiego.org, and to see some of Jeremy’s work, go to www.jeremysvision.com.