Short Center North’s Surreal Estates art show
“Art should achieve more.”
It’s what video and spoken-word artist Rik Tillson said. And he said it with a thoughtfully raised brow—but casually, as if it wasn’t quite as important as I’d soon make it out to be. To me, it’s a bold set of words that rattled in my head all day long, like lug nuts in a coffee canister. And after only a couple hours at Short Center North, an art center for adults with disabilities (where Tillson is director), the statement made a lot of sense.
An energy blows through the unassuming building that houses the Short Center that’s nearly indescribable. The building, tucked behind El Camino Boulevard, gives off a vibe that’s derived in part from the sweetness of the people who take up the space, but also from the forceful productivity that’s at work. Students are everywhere. And Tillson spends the majority of the day visiting different classrooms.
A few students walk hurriedly to the garden out back, where artist John Stuart Berger digs around. “It’s hard to keep everybody engaged simultaneously,” Berger says, as he systematically folds the damp soil. Berger speaks in a calm, Zen-like manner that all the instructors seem to have at the Center.
Nearby, in the painting class, Skinner (yes, that Skinner) sits among a group of about 10 students who are all in various stages of frenzied artistic achievement.
Ruth Shelton has cerebral palsy. She’s in her 80s and in a wheelchair. And she paints with her head. No, literally, with her head. She asks Skinner to show us how she does it. He removes her glasses and straps an elastic band with a long brush at the end onto her head. Skinner puts a canvas a couple feet away from her face. And using the brush jutting from her forehead, she paints. Beautifully. Colorfully.
A handsome, nicely dressed man with a huge smile runs up to shake my hand. It’s William Haddad. Or should I say, it’s the William Haddad—the artist whose work made it to the Outsider Art Fair in New York City and to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Haddad’s work is uninhibited, inspired, and it relays raw energy, life and happiness—all with a chaotic simplicity and a style that’s distinctly his.
“A lot of these students here have shown [their work] extensively,” Skinner says, obviously very proud. “And we have some of the best artists in Sacramento here hanging around.”
It’s true. A look at the class schedule is like a who’s who of Sac outsider artists: Berger, Kim Scott, Val Fernandez and Steve Vanoni, among others.
The students are all disabled in some way, but that’s kind of an afterthought; they’re all just really into art. And using art, they create an energy that can only be derived from what goes on at this humble center on the outskirts of Sacramento. Outsider art, fringe art, lowbrow art—call it what you want. It’s so full of soul that, as Tillson explains, as any good art will, it’ll “take you to a place.”
“Art should achieve more.”
To see the featured work of Short Center North students Jon Espegren and William Haddad, along with the work of other students and their teachers, head to the Surreal Estates @ Studio X (2320 Cantalier Street) on Saturday, August 9, from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. www.surrealestates.org.
Artists from Short Center North—Darice Blackburn, Jon Espegren, Crystal Forbes, Cheryl Reed, Bob Sulin, James Van Tassel and Greg Tumbusch—will display their work at the SMUD gallery, 6301 S Street at 65th Street from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Friday. The reception is Friday, August 15, at 11 a.m. Through August 29.