Letting the canvas speak

lifestyle April 28, 2015 01:00

By PHOOWADON DUANGMEE
THE NATION

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Autistic children and adults express themselves through art therapy and an exhibition



Pasin Singhasaneh has always had problems communicating verbally. The 25-year-old, who was diagnosed with autistic disorder as a child, finds it difficult to make basic conversation and is not capable of explaining emotions like love, anger, jealousy or passion. Arm him with crayons, paints, markers and canvas, however, and he has no trouble speaking his mind. 
More than 50 of his paintings are currently on show in the “Self+Art Exhibition Therapy” at the Pridi Banomyong Institute, and the show is well worth the short walk from Thonglor BTS station. 
Ranging from small paintings of a house to a large portrait of a boy, Pasin’s works are every bit as compelling as any abstracts. Using a visual language of shapes, forms, lines and vibrant colours, the young man reveals thoughts locked in the complex mind of a person marked by autistic disorder.
“He loves painting a house and paints it repeatedly. I used to hope that he might be also interested in painting other things” says Pasin’s mother, Kanokleka, who shared her son’s story last Saturday with visitors to the Institute. 
Repetitive behaviour and obsession are characteristic of autistic disorder and Pasin keeps painting a house for no other reason than he enjoys it.
Kanokleka adds that he often changes the details in his paintings, giving the door a brighter colour than in an earlier work, though she is unable to explain why.
The Self+Art Exhibition Therapy is organised and curated by the Singhasaneh family and Chumphol Chinaprapath – Pasin’s art therapist – and aims to show how art can help centre the mind of those with autism.
Autism is a neurological condition present at birth, whose precise cause is as yet unknown. The symptoms of autism include repetitive or compulsive behaviours, social impairment, problems with communication and trouble processing sensory information, such as hypersensitivity to sounds. The most popular treatment is behaviour modification therapy, which aims to shape behaviours through a system of rewards and consequences. 
Caregivers seeking alternative or complementary treatments have discovered a broader range of options in recent years and the Singhasaneh family looked to art to help their child. 
“Art keeps him calm and focused,” says Chumphol, a self-taught art therapist who has been working with Pasin for almost 10 years. “Unlike other activities with the roles and regulations, art has no right or wrong. People with autistic disorder can express their feelings and emotions through creating art.”
Art therapy is different from art instruction, Chumphol explains, because the therapist uses art to cultivate development among people with autism rather than pushing them to create an attractive artwork. “We use it to build life skills and address deficits and problem behaviour,” he explains. 
“But we often ran into trouble during the art class. Pasin liked going to the toilet because he was obsessed with flushing the toilet. He also liked making loud sharp noises and clapping his hands while he was in the class,” Chumpol says. 
“I drew these gestures and told him to draw along. We discussed the gestures, whether they were appropriate or inappropriate and constituted good or bad behaviour. He learnt and developed.”
While art therapy might focus on the process and pleasure of art making more than making a bold statement, Pasin’s work is compelling and has the power to hold the attention. I particularly like the way he works with colours. 
Suffused with extraordinary depth of feeling and emotion, the paintings are exhibited in different sizes and tones. 
“You should start looking at his early works at the smaller gallery behind the main hall, and then move into the main gallery for his late works,” Chumpol advises.
It’s believed that people with autism think and speak in pictures and I found the young man to be very “talkative” through his 50 works. He “speaks” a lot about flowers and children. A bouquet of flowers in a vase, rendered in vivid oils and heavy and thick brush strokes, brought to mind Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”. 
“Pasin likes to work from photographs because it helps him to be more focused than if he looks at the view,” Chumphol says.
 EVERY PICTURE
  “Self+Art Exhibition Therapy” continues through Sunday at the Pridi Banomyong Institute on Soi Thong Lor, not far from BTS Thong Lor. Admission is free.