"Transcendence: The Journey of Autism" Ethan Engel exhibit

December 21, 2014
“Target,” 30″ x 22″

Meet the Artist on Feb. 6

The Matthews Art Gallery will be displaying, “Transcendence: The Journey of Autism,” works by Ethan Engel. An opening reception will be held Friday, Feb. 6, from 5:00-7:00 p.m. The exhibit runs Feb. 6-28.

Engel is a graphic design and communications major at BHSU. His work has been chosen for the VSA Emerging Young Artists Program. The VSA Emerging Young Artists Program provides opportunities for young artists with disabilities, aged 16 to 25, to participate in the arts and explore the possibilities of pursuing arts-based careers.

Ethan Engel
Ethan Engel

On display at the Smithsonian

The 2014 VSA theme is The Journey. Artists created pieces that represented the journey with their disability. Only 15 artists are selected out of hundreds of entries. Engel’s piece, “Overcast,” won an Award of Excellence in the program.

“Overcast” is currently on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s Dillon Ripley Center in Washington D.C. Engels work will remain on display until Jan. 5. It will then travel around the United States for one year.

Art has helped Ethan overcome his struggle with Asperger’s—a form of high functioning autism that creates difficulties in social interactions as well as motor development and communication.

“I took it as how you live with your disability in your everyday life,” Engel said. “I decided to do something that talks about my past by expressing a journal that shows my internal conflicts and struggles of understanding how my autism functions.”

During a recent interview with BHSU media, Dave Wilson, professor of art at BHSU, said, “This is the most significant, important representation any student has had in the history of our program–on such a national level, on such a global topic.” Wilson went on to say, “This is huge. He’s showing at the most prestigious museum in the country.”

A work in progress....
A work in progress….

His Process – What it means

While working on his canvas, “Overcast,” with Wilson this summer, the two decided to try holding the journal image backwards. The words were more difficult to read this way, which Engel said correlated to how it was hard for him to function with autism during certain times.

Engel uses a wood burning tool kit to burn the lettering into the canvas. He uses a natural cotton fabric that resembles the color of his skin. The burnt lettering and texture was made to look like old scars.

“I want people to try and understand what autism is all about,” Engel said. “How I deal with situations, my emotions. When you’re hearing me talk I do have that processing issue,” Engel said. “That’s why I wanted to play with the viewer a bit and get them interacted and try to connect with how the story goes.”

The burned lettering symbolizes Engel’s past and how he was bullied because of his disability.

Wilson said as Engel prepares for graduation in the spring, the VSA honor will help further his career.

“In four years what Ethan has done is amazing. I think back to when I first met Ethan,” Wilson said. “Autism had Ethan when he came to BHSU. Now Ethan has autism and he is using it as a tool to make his life better.”

The beginning for Ethan

Ethan credits his artistic talent to his grandmother.

“She started having me paint ceramics because that was her favorite hobby,” Engel said. “Throughout my academics, yeah I struggle, big time. English is not my best subject and even speech when I have trouble speaking and with grammar. Art helped me with some of my grades with creativity.”

When Engel enrolled at BHSU he decided to try out some art classes.

“That’s when it hit. I knew that this was the perfect choice for me,” he said. “That’s when I increased my social skills more.”

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