This Art Studio Nurtures Talent in People on the Autism Spectrum

New York City’s Pure Visions Arts provides an art and exhibition space for around 40 creative people with autism

Pink Flamingos and Alligators, colored pencil on paper, 19" x 24", 2014 Photo: Nicole Appel
Her Mother, acrylic on canvas, 36" x 36", 2014 Photo: Susan Brown
Swans, ink on paper, 18" x 24", 2013 Photo: Eric Sadowsky
Day of the Dead Masks, colored pencil on paper, 19" x 24", 2013 Photo: Nicole Appel
Super Heroes as Senior Citizens, Enamel Paint on Gold Dollar Coins, 2014 Photo: Oscar Azmitia
Her Mother, Acrylic on Canvas, 6’ x 4’, 2014 Photo: Susan Brown
Oysters and Teddy Bears, colored pencil on paper, 19" x 24", 2014 Photo: Nicole Appel
he Chrysler Building with Perihelion and Transit of Venus, acrylic on paper, 17" x 23", 2004 Photo: Jessica Park
Artist Christopher Chronopoulos with his work, 2014 Photo: Pure Vision Arts

People with autism often struggle to find accommodation in society. To better support that community, in 2002, the non-profit Shield Institute founded Pure Vision Arts. Located in Manhattan's art district, Pure Vision Arts is the city's first art studio dedicated to people on the autism spectrum. SFARI describes a recent visit to the space: 

The 2,500-square-foot loft in the heart of Chelsea — just blocks from the 1960s home of Andy Warhol’s Factory — can barely contain the colorful canvases and bewitching sculptures produced by its pupils. From life-size replicas of parking meters to portraits of aging superheroes painted on pennies, the art is as diverse as autism itself.

On a sunny November day, the studio bustles with the sounds of artists mixing colors and measuring materials. Nicole Appel, a 24-year-old New Yorker whose drawings feature bicycles, bears, tools and oysters, introduces herself with confidence. Across the room, 26-year-old sculptor Chase Ferguson nods and says, “Cool, cool, cool” in response to compliments on his miniature taxicabs crafted from repurposed cardboard.

People on the spectrum, SFARI continues, often experience sensory perceptions in unique ways, which can lead to careers in art. Andy Warhol, for example, is widely believed to have been on the spectrum. Pure Vision Arts seeks to facilitate that talent and share it with the broader public. As they write on their website: "Many PVA artists have led extraordinary lives and the sheer power and uniqueness of their work helps to break down negative public misperceptions and stereotypes about people who have disabilities."