Abstract artist celebrates creative expression on World Down Syndrome Day

A painter with Down Syndrome whose work has been exhibited in New York and London is joining a global call to ‘end the stereotypes’ as we mark World Down Syndrome Day this month.

Fiona Stevenson, whose ‘mark making’ is celebrated by fellow artists and collectors for its sophistication, is one of a number of artists with Down Syndrome across the world. She was a founder member of international organisation Heart & Sold which championed the artwork of people with Down Syndrome.

Fiona, who has been painting for a decade, is not alone in finding the visual medium a perfect way of expressing how she sees her surroundings. Before settling on the brush and canvas, her creative outlets spanned needlework at Hampton Court and silversmithing.

World Down Syndrome Day, which takes place on March 21, a date chosen to reflect the triplication of chromosome 21 which causes the condition, has been observed by the United Nations since 2012.

This year’s theme to ‘end the stereotypes’ offers the opportunity for the global population to appreciate the special qualities brought to the world by those with Down Syndrome and recognise that we are all different in varying ways.

While some of the galleries displaying her work know Fiona has Down Syndrome, her paintings have also been selected ‘blind’, entirely on merit, with the gallery owners having no prior knowledge of her background – proof that her work stands up on merit.

Master printer Kip Gresham, who has collaborated with the likes of Terry Frost and Elizabeth Frink, spent some time working with Fiona a couple of years ago and was so impressed with her pieces he arranged a solo exhibition of her paintings at the Cambridge Arts Festival.

Entitled Passer Being, Kip said: “The idea behind the phrase ‘Passer Being’ is that of one who inhabits their own world and this, at certain times overlaps the worlds that others experience.

“Fiona’s abstract artistic practice captures the idea of an individual working in the wider world, while suggesting the business of touching on experience, with a wonderful ‘take’ on the particularity that goes with inclusiveness, that is that we are all different, but we are all one,” he said.

“Fiona is not uncommon among people with Down Syndrome in mostly inhabiting her own worlds which we overlap at certain times. Painting or drawing every day places Fiona in her own framework and unites her with most artists for whom the language of making is their primary means of communicating and identifying themselves.”

Indeed, a report for Down Syndrome Education International – Creative arts, imagination and expression – An important way of being, sharing and feeling? states that there is no evidence to suggest a link between IQ and artistic ability.

“Creative expression through the arts may be especially important for children and adults with Down Syndrome for several reasons. Many cannot share their feelings through words, but can do so most eloquently through dance and movement or through painting. Creative arts then, may be an important ‘voice’ for many,” it says.

These views are shared by the founder of Latin American organisation, The Mexican School of Down Art.  Sylvia Escamilla, whose son had Down Syndrome, was behind the development of an extensive educational programme in the visual arts in the mid 90s.

“People with Down Syndrome have much to offer in the field of the arts and have taught us to see life on a more profound level.

“There emerges the power of the human spirit – a creative ability that transcends intellectual mechanics and imbues things with a light of its own: the unrestricted enjoyment of life. They show us that human life is not reduced to skills and aptitudes, but rather that it rests upon a process of self-generation that allows us to transform the immediate into desire and to identify this process with that curious destiny known as a calling, rather than with the mere achievement of goals.”

Fiona’s mentor and art teacher Julia Skrebels says her method of painting representational pictures of emotional situations, use of expansive, expressive brushwork technique and love of a bold palette of acrylics and oils is in a similar territory to that of Sir Howard Hodgkin.

“Fiona, who paints every day, begins each project by choosing an image which means something to her. It may be an object or view she’s seen or something from her imagination. She mentions what she has chosen throughout the painting process, with the marks she makes inspired by how she sees and feels about it. Art keeps her mind active. She decides exactly what she wants to paint every time and directs the narrative. She’ll take an idea and know exactly how to abstract an image from it. It’s amazing to watch,” she said.

See some of Fiona Stevenson’s work, and view her virtual galleries, here: https://w


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