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Janesville man with autism finds escape through art

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Shelly Birkelo
April 11, 2013

— When his low-functioning autism led to aggressive and violent behavior, Sam Brickman's parents made the difficult decision to remove him from school.

At the time they feared it would close the doors of opportunity to the 15-year-old boy.

Now, five years later, art is helping reopen them.

Starting Saturday, April 20, the Janesville man will be the featured artist at Raven's Wish art gallery in downtown Janesville.

When former Craig High School art teacher Dona Stegeman first discovered Brickman's paintings, she was moved to approach Raven's Wish owner Alicia Reid with a sample. Reid found Sam's work realistic, contained and thematic. She also considered it compartmentalized, organized and interesting enough to display in a three-week exhibit.

“We like to be supportive of the art community in general,” Reid said. “We're also interested in up-and-coming young artists—folks who might not have a chance to hang their art elsewhere.

“It's a good opportunity for us to showcase an artist whose work is a little bit more out of the mainstream,” she said.

Stegeman said the 20-year-old has a definite style to his art, which is rare for someone so young.

“His body of work is recognizable piece after piece, and his art is very deliberate,” Stegeman said. “Some artists struggle for years to find their style and here's a young man who knows and is doing it.”

Brickman's paintings are deliberate, methodical, thought out and whimsical, Stegeman said.

“His work has a cartoonish quality to it,” she said.

Kathy and David Brickman said their son has been drawing since he was young. Over the years, his interest expanded into letters and numbers, plus transportation—trains, cars, and boats—that can be the subject of his art.

Today Sam spends most of his time drawing at the dining room table of his parents' east side home, which serves as his studio.

“He has 50 art pads at a time and everywhere he goes travels with a bag, tablets, pens, markers, pencils and colored pencils,” Kathy said.

“He does everything freehand,” David said, before Kathy added, “and always with ink. He doesn't erase or go over.”

Art serves a Zen-like purpose for Sam, they said.

“It helps keep him calm and occupy his time, David said. “He really gets involved.”

Knowing Sam's art will be featured publicly makes his mother cry tears of joy.

“His world was small after we had to withdraw him from school,” she said. “For us to have him have this opportunity it's amazing, and it opens up his world again when we were very concerned about his future.”

“He is trapped by his autism and his behavior,” Kathy said, “but the art transports him out of that.”



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