Ryan Smoluk has been on a personal journey with autism and mental health disabilities, and throughout his life he has used art as a means of communicating and helping others.
On Jan. 12, 2017, the artist and speaker gave a talk about his life, his work and the need for community members to support each another.
Smoluk, empowered by art and by the mentorship, community and support of Winnipeg’s Artbeat Studio Inc., uses his gifts, talents and experiences to help encourage other emerging artists.
A recent feature article by Alan Small, Winnipeg Free Press Arts and Life editor, explains how Smoluk used art as a way to communicate when he was a youngster.
“It allowed him to get his ideas on paper while his verbal skills caught up,” writes Small in ‘Fish out of water’ to shark artist from June 18, 2016.
In an interview, Smoluk explains his diagnosis of autism “is a blessing and a curse.”
He gets an image in his mind’s eye, is driven until it is produced, and must perfect it. His pieces have many layers and depth to them, as was explained in his presentation at the library.
Smoluk was part of the first alumni group at Artbeat Studio back in 2005.
“Rather than a medical model where people go to the hospital for [mental health treatment], Artbeat Studio is more of the social model,” he explains. “Artists find support being with artists. As they do art, they talk,” he adds.
“Artbeat Studio embraces people with mental health [disabilities] in an empathetic model, as people involved have similar experiences,” Smoluk says.
The young artist believes [this model of art and support] is also helpful for people living with dementia, or for war veterans.
He believes there is a need for more art models like Artbeat Studio, to help and empower more people facing mental health barriers.
Nigel Bart, Artbeat Studio Facilitator and Founder, took art classes at the University of Manitoba with Smoluk. Both received a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree. Their instructor, Diana Thorneycroft, the 2016 Manitoba Arts Award of Distinction recipient and a sessional instructor at the University of Manitoba’s School of Art for 25 years, showed her support at the Millennium Library discussion.
At the event, Thorneycroft and Bart agreed that for Smoluk, it is not the finished product that is most meaningful, but rather the process of creating the mixed pieces.
These pieces often consist of paint, layers, thickness and textures, a blend of colour and effects. Smoluk creates paintings, sculptures, and hybrids.
One such example is his 2012 ‘Culture Shock’ that he explains as “strong board, paper, collage, acrylic, mixture of coffee crystals, black ink.”
Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator, Steven Leyden Cochrane, in a recent Winnipeg Free Press article, describes Smoluk’s works, especially ‘Culture Shock’, “With equal parts horror and bemusement, the works examine rampant consumerism, militarization, technologically accelerated social isolation and celebrity culture, even as these run together, becoming background noise.” (From Information overload: Wry humour counters creeping chaos of contemporary life, July 7, 2016).
‘Culture Shock’ took place at Actual Contemporary Art Gallery, 300 Ross Ave., in Winnipeg on July 23, 2016. In reporting on the show, CBC stated, “Winnipeg artist inspired but not defined by his autism.” (From “Ryan Smoluk is ‘an amazing artist,’ says his mentor and teacher” on June 09, 2016.
Thorneycroft believes Smoluk is one of a small group of true artists.
“Ryan is an artist who has autism. He’s not an autistic person who happens to be an artist,” said Thorneycroft at the library, and quoted by Alan Small from the Winnipeg Free Press.
She has worked with him since 2009, even after his graduation in 2013, and continues to encourage him to put his name out there – for grants, shows, conferences, and speaking opportunities.
She even shares his dark sense of humour. Smoluk’s 2013 painting, ‘False Gods‘ – a “masonite board, acrylic” is just one example.
At the library talk, Bart agreed with Smoluk’s perspective of taking our cultural sense of immediate gratification, consumerism, pop culture, the media, politics and social issues, which he reflects in a critical yet humorous way.
Smoluk, who has garnered wide recognition for his work, received in 2015, a Canada Council for the Arts Grant and a Winnipeg Arts Council Grant; in 2014 he won a Manitoba Arts Council Grant for Emerging Artists.
In March 2012, he was given the United Nations Stamp Award; his painting was reproduced on a postage stamp available worldwide.
In April that same year, he was an invited guest at the UN Assembly hosted by Christiane Amanpour of ABC News, and attended by UN Secretary General at the time, Ban Ki-moon.
That same year, he was honoured at the New York Stock Exchange Ringing of the Bell ceremony, and was recognized for his art by emcee Tommy Hilfiger. You can read more of Ryan Smoluk’s accomplishments by clicking this link http://ryansmoluk.ca
Smoluk continues to produce art, volunteer, and speak at conferences. He has a particular affinity for volunteering at Artbeat, mentoring other artists who share similar struggles. He says he does this because he cares about others and wants them to succeed.
At the library event, both Thorneycroft and Bart explained that Smoluk is someone with empathy and compassion. He mentors other artists, gives talks and encourages them.
Smoluk says he gives back because he enjoys helping others get out of a shell and recover. He explains he teaches skills to all types of artists, but most importantly focuses on their individual strengths, academic achievement, social inclusion and creating a sense of community and purpose.
Smoluk believes there is a growing need for programs like Artbeat that facilitate recovery, where people in similar circumstances can talk and empower each other.
Artbeat is in need of the public’s support to continue running and helping people in their recovery and empowerment on their mental health journey.
Crossroads Group 24 Seven Gallery
‘Crossroads Group 24 Seven’ takes place at Artbeat Studio, 4th floor, 62 Albert St. in the Exchange. This 24th bi-annual exhibition has an opening reception Fri. Jan. 20, 2017, 7 p.m. Show runs until Jan. 28. Regular gallery hours are 12-5 p.m., Tue-Fri and 12-3 p.m. Saturday.
The featured works are from Barb Anderson, Kent Zolondek, Finn Taylor, Brendan Rock, Sarah Shannon, Adrienne Pelletier and Kaitlin Boyle. For more info visit: http://artbeatstudio.ca/crossroads/
The story and the stats: mental health recovery through participatory arts; research presentation fundraisig event
The research presentation fundraising event, ‘the story and the stats: mental health recovery through participatory arts’ is on Wed. Jan. 25, 2017 at the Brodie Centre Atrium, University of Manitoba, 727 McDermot Ave (HSC atrium between Tim Hortons and Starbucks).
As this is Bell Let’s Talk Day, the evening begins at 6 p.m. with Artbeat alumni art sale and wine & cheese with live music by Bart House Band. At 7 p.m. when the research presentation begins, “A Mixed Method Investigation Of The Impact Of Involvement In A Participatory Arts Program In Canada: Effect Of Involvement In Artbeat Studio Inc.” by authors Dr. Renée El-Gabalawy, Dr. Tracey Bone, & Dr. Susan Holm.
Also presented will be “Vibrant Lives, Vibrant Communities: Evaluating The Impacts Of Studio Central Programming” by authors: Fran Schellenberg, Melissa Hiebert and colleagues.
For more info on this fundraiser visit: http://artbeatstudio.ca/the-story-the-stats-research-presentation-fundraising-event/
Support and donations are gratefully accepted.