Art over disability

The MDA Art Collection promotes the work of artists with neuromuscular diseases

“Balloon Vendor” by Adele Feigenbaum.

“Balloon Vendor” by Adele Feigenbaum.

Photo By David Robert

Craig Smyres has three pieces on display at the Metro Gallery, all of which depict women. The Riverside Artist Lofts resident says these digitally reworked drawings are a bit of a departure from the art he’s doing right now—namely, working on a novel and working with bronze.

“It shows the appeal of cars and the lure of cars, and the damage that cars do to the environment,” Smyres says of his current work.

Digitally reworked drawings. Novels. Bronze art. That’s a lot of irons in the fire—especially for someone who’s battling muscular dystrophy.Smyres says the MDA had been contacting him “for quite some time” to donate artwork to the exhibit. Since the organization had helped him out by purchasing a needed wheelchair, he donated the drawings to the collection just before the exhibit came to Reno.

He took some of his older drawings of female models, scanned them in and digitally altered their color schemes to give the works new life.

“People can be bored by graphite on paper,” he says. “This gives them the visual impact of a painting.”

The most striking of Smyres’ three displayed works is called “watching him.” It is simply a sketch of the outline of a woman in profile. She’s calmly gazing, as if out a window, with her chin resting on her clasped hands. There is little detail to the work except in the eyes, where eyelashes and a pupil show clearly where the woman is looking. But what’s different about this piece is the coloration—the woman’s outline is pink against a pastel green marbleized background. That’s it—nothing else. It is simple, yet beautiful.

The exhibit also includes works by several other artists and five pieces that were created by children. An acrylic painting by Jose Carballo (1975-1995), “Ajo Historical Society,” caught my eye among the children’s works. Created in January 1993 at an MDA-sponsored art workshop at Arizona State University, the painting shows an old, brown and white mission-style building. Two crosses come out of the building’s roof, and a green bush with either red flowers or fruit hugs a back corner of the building. Again, this is a simple, artfully colored work.

But not all of the works on display are simple. My favorite was an oil painting, “Balloon Vendor,” by Adele Feigenbaum. This gorgeous work shows a young blonde girl dressed in a bright orange dress and orange hat with a big white bow around her waist. She appears to be getting some balloons from a young vendor in a brick alleyway. The vendor, standing next to a cart filled with flowers, holds five balloons.

Feigenbaum is best known for a commissioned portrait of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meier, which is now on exhibit at the Golda Meier Cultural Arts Center in Tel Aviv, Israel. She uses paint liberally, with thick, globby lines, giving the work an almost three-dimensional feel. The proportions are a bit out of whack—the bricks making up the street seem huge, and the alleyway leads to nothing but blue sky—but that does not detract from the delightfully serene scene.

These artworks more than prove the exhibit’s statement—that physical disabilities are no barrier to creativity.