Housed in the Bridgeport Art Center, the nonprofit, industry-leading Project Onward “exists to give a ‘visual voice’ to artists with neurodiversity.” It provides them with studio space and materials free of charge and provides encouragement, socializing and opportunities to show their work. Many are self-taught; a few have formal training.
Some sixty pieces comprise the current exhibition. It’s a diverse group, perhaps as diverse as the artists themselves. Much of the art is extremely colorful and upbeat, but there are quirky, anxious works as well. Often the drawing is careful and meticulous, but it can be boldly expressive and loose, too. Overall, the imagined spaces in these works are inhabited by fantastic things—by animals, plants, superheroes, cities, landscapes and supernatural creatures. The urge to create the illusion of space on a flat surface is as old as art itself. Think ancient Chinese and Greek art and Roman wall painting. Modernists and purists would say that illusionism is pure artifice—a lie. But it also delights, pulling us into a fabricated, shared space. Constructed spaces can also suggest ideas such as memory, identity, geography and even consciousness itself. Even the Abstract Expressionist Barnett Newman conceded that “a painter is a choreographer of space.”
John Behnke is represented with several works, wide-ranging in their subjects and treatments. Bill Douglas’ colored pencil pieces masterfully combine fantasy and expression. Kowalewski’s “Dada Obscura” drawings are enigmatic whereas Safiya Hameed’s works exude joy. Look for Louis DeMarco’s ambitious “Loudemar,” which is dense with text and image. One sees in the acrylic DayGlo landscapes of Fernando Ramirez hints of traditional Mexican art. Jason Harris’ landscapes are charming and intelligent. Matthew Bianchi’s otherworldly plants resemble Jacqueline Cousins Oliva’s. Sereno Wilson’s glitter piece, “Emerald City” is iconic whereas the intricate future-worlds of James Hall and Adam Hines invite careful viewing. David Hence and Janno Juguilon’s art references architecture and Chicago. Delightful works by Michael Bryant, Dana Baker, Molly McGrath, Bobby Tirelli and Stephan Doby round out the show. The intriguing biographies of all the artists are posted on the website. Another way Project Onward serves the community is in offering these dynamic artworks for sale. Indeed, all the pieces in this exhibition may be purchased—prices range from $50 to $1,200—as can those by other Project Onward artists.
“Imagined Spaces” is moving because it reminds us of the interior spaces that sequestered us during the pandemic. Or how we discovered the outdoors. Or maybe because these created spaces relate to the creative and literal space Project Onward provides to its artists. In any case, the exhibition is worthy of an in-person or online visit at projectonward.org/imagined-spaces.
The imagined spaces generated by the talented Project Onward artists are ones we should all get inside. (Mark Pohlad)
“Imagined Spaces,” at Project Onward, Bridgeport Art Center, 1200 West 35th, Fourth Floor, through July 15.