Mitchell Brager, a 22-year old local artist with autism, debuted his second exhibit at the Terrace Art Gallery Jan. 4
Known for his illustrations of the world around him, Mitchell’s “Northern Homes etc.” is a collection of paintings of heritage buildings and key landmarks in Terrace, Prince Rupert and Stewart. He first connects with each piece from a photograph, drawing the outline first, then adding more detail and colour later on.
He’s quick and confident with his work and draws constantly, according to mom Colleen Brager. In December, he completed 25 paintings before the exhibit.
“He draws all the time, so when we’re at home, he’s always got stacks of paper,” says Colleen. “It’s an outlet for him… When he draws, he’s very focused and he’s calm, and he’s just in the moment with it.”
Mitchell first began colouring at a young age but grew as an artist when his elementary school aid in Kelowna introduced him to drawing. He worked with several other artists to learn different methods and techniques, until eventually, one artist told Colleen he didn’t need any more training; he knew what he was doing and had his own style.
“He’s really loose and confident. He’s not taking a lot of time to worry about the fine details, he’s just throwing in what he sees and engages with each piece from a photograph. It’s really effective, very efficient and very bright,” says Laura McGregor, gallery coordinator.
To show where Mitchell’s talents first began, drawings from his childhood are also part of the exhibit. Pieces date back to when Mitchell first began with self-portraits and several Disney characters — Colleen’s personal favourite is one drawing of Winnie the Pooh’s belly.
“I was really concerned that he was going to get upset and throw it out because he didn’t draw the face,” she says. “But he liked it and moved on to the next one, and that’s when I knew he was an artist.”
|One of Mitchell’s first pieces, ‘Winnie the Pooh.’|
Several of his most recent pieces were painted in the gallery, a quiet place where Mitchell can focus without distraction.
Though on opening day, his once usually quiet studio was filled with noise, chatter and movement. To give him a place where he could concentrate amid the clamour, Colleen set up a table for him to draw caricatures of gallery guests.
Autism can often make socializing and interacting with others difficult, and she says the live drawings allow Mitchell to interact and focus on the details of the person in front of him, a momentary pause to interact with his subject.
“Mitchell is a guy with autism who can be different and all over the place, but everyone sees the amazingness in him through of his art,” Colleen says.
His focus is immediate — Mitchell zones in and gets right to work, starting with the person’s outline, then filling in their most noticeable details.
With a smile on his face and a few glances at his subject, Mitchell can illustrate the person sitting across from him within minutes, creating a personalized piece of their own to take home.
“For Mitchell…it’s a really nice way for him to engage with people one on one,” McGregor says. “He needs to look at them and see that kind of detail on them.”
Mitchell drew 28 caricatures the opening night, with half of the proceeds going back to the gallery. He also sold 19 of his paintings, with many residents asking for commissions of their own.
“People know who he is now, we’ll be walking around town and someone will say ‘Hey, is that Mitchell the artist?’ It’s really cool to feel that community love and support,” she says.
The “Northern Homes etc.” exhibit will be on display at the Art Gallery until Jan. 26, with several of Mitchell’s pieces available for purchase.