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Awetistic optimistic

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Patrick Francis is a special needs artist who hasn’t allowed the constraints of his disorder to keep him from achieving his dreams, writes SWATI BHARGAV

Patrick Francis with mum Sandra and dad Greg at the VMC awards in September

At only 22 years of age, Melbourne’s Patrick Francis has made quite a career for himself as an artist.

His acrylic works on paper – depicting gentle human figures and animals – are honest and serene, and his particular use of vibrant colours give us a glance of the inner child hidden in him.

Currently exhibiting at the “Achieve Your Dream Exhibition” at Splash Gallery, Phoenix Youth Centre, Footscray, Patrick has participated in major art events such as Arts Project Gala Exhibition, SafARI 2014, the Melbourne Art Fair, and was showcased as a “Melbourne Now” artist at the National Gallery of Victoria.

He also has a string of awards to his credit, the most recent being a Victorian Multicultural Award for Excellence 2014 in the category of arts.

As a special needs artist who hasn’t allowed the constraints of his disorder to keep him from achieving his dreams, Patrick is indeed a role model for many others like him.

The young artist was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, but his parents, Greg and Sandra, always realised that he was unique in his own way.

Becoming aware that the visual arts can be an effective intervention for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, they latched on to their verbally-impaired son’s natural inclination towards the arts.

“Art was always a ‘companion’ that stayed by Patrick’s side since childhood,” Sandra Francis tells Indian Link. “It seems to help him communicate with the world.”

Together with their older child Lesley, now 24, the Francis family went all out to encourage Patrick.

He was only eight when his works were first picked for exhibition at Melbourne’s Federation Square and then at the Sydney Opera House. There’s been no stopping him since.

An example of Patrick’s work: Not titled (woman with bobbed hair) 2013

Today, the brother-sister duo have founded a non-profit community organisation called Absolutely Awetistic Arts (AAA) which promotes positive awareness of intellectual disability as well as multiculturalism. Patrick’s art is presented on the website http://art-exhibitions.weebly.com/

“Special needs individuals are gifted in various areas and they need to be appreciated and respected for their abilities,” Sandra says. “Our websites and Facebook page aim to promote harmony and acceptance of people with all abilities from various cultural backgrounds and recognise them as contributing members of society.”

Patrick assists his sister Lesley to curate, install, de-install, catalogue, print, build slideshows and upload work/photos to websites, for some 15 exhibitions annually. All artwork produced is sold with profits reinvested in disability art exhibitions and publications.

Lesley is an author, curator, arts writer and dynamic young entrepreneur, and will do anything to help her brother. His works illustrates several books that she has produced.

Along with her parents, she has also encouraged her brother to participate in sports, and Patrick has responded by excelling at athletics, golf, swimming and ten-pin bowling, and is currently a part of the Special Olympics.

The Francis family’s care and encouragement of Patrick is indeed inspirational. And what does Patrick himself think of it all?

“I don’t think he realises just how popular his work is or how well-known he is in art and sport circles,” reveals Sandra. “His work has been presented to the Governor-General of Australia and is included in numerous private collections. He also receives lots of fan mail besides letters of congratulations from politicians, art critics, curators, other artists, mayors of various councils and he just smiles and takes it in his stride.  He just says ‘Thank You, that’s nice’ with a broad smile. He does art, sport and community work because he enjoys it, the recognition probably means very little to him.”

Having seen Patrick through his difficulties and achieve acclaim now, Sandra feels her efforts have all been worth it.

“Patrick is always busy,” smiles Sandra. “He does not like to waste time. As he does not speak much, he spends most of his time on the computer, at sport or preparing artwork for exhibitions.” 

She hopes that he is happy in himself and confident in dealing with daily issues.

“Everyone deserves a career and luckily Patrick has found his niche at a young age,” she concludes.

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