Meet Joel Anderson, 28, an autistic artist and public speaker living in Fallbrook, CA, who is donating his artwork to The New Children’s Museum. His artwork will be auctioned off at the Museum’s annual fundraising gala, Studio 200: Totally 80s Birthday Bash, on November 10, and the proceeds will go toward supporting the Museum’s many access programs. Joel’s contribution speaks to both his passions for creating art and raising awareness about autism spectrum disorders.
Diagnosed with autism at the age of three, Joel responds to color differently than most people, which is often reflected in his vibrant and whimsical paintings. With the help of his parents, Sandi and Jeff Anderson, his teacher in Fallbrook, Suzette Phillips, and his mentor, international artist Julienne Johnson, Joel developed his natural talent for painting and has made art his profession. He has been commissioned for projects for Autism Tree, JetBlue Airlines, Le Caramel candy company and several other clients. His art has even traveled around the globe, and been shown in China, Japan, Africa, Australia, Canada, Peru as well as across the U.S.!
Although much of Joel’s art focuses on painting, he also makes stop-motion videos and writes poetry and music. In 2013, Joel published his first book, “Courage at the Concert,” a medieval-themed children’s book about standing up to bullies. This year, he was chosen as one of the artists for the Art of Autism iPad art program with Apple Inc. and the Art of Autism.
After his visit to the Museum, we had the opportunity to ask Joel some more questions about his art process, the artwork he is donating to the Museum and how his artwork connects him to more people.
Q: Why do you enjoy painting?
Joel: I enjoy painting because when I paint I can feel peace and face the world with ease. It’s a line from the song I wrote called, “Colors of my Mind.” Sometimes my mind gets busy and anxious, and I like to use beautiful colors. They make me happy and then I see joy in green, courage in blue, strength in red, and love in yellow too. Painting is a way I connect with the world.
Q: Is there a theme to your paintings?
Joel: My desire for my paintings and all my work, such as my animations and my stop-motion films, is to make people smile. That’s the theme for my artwork career. My artwork has bright and cheerful colors and I always love to give a hint of a smile. I have two recent collections like the Vision Collection because each of the collection has animal eyes or human eyes. I go for a shape and color when I paint upside down for less distraction, and when I bring it to the right side up, then I can paint the emotion and the soul in the eyes. I’ve painted tree frogs, eagles, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Abraham Lincoln.
I’m also working on an exhibit on the “Mentor Lion” collection. Each piece is dedicated to a mentor who has helped me with friendships and with my art. Mentorship is an important part of learning life skills for everyone.
Q: Can you tell us more about the painting you’re donating to The New Children’s Museum’s gala? What inspired it?
Joel: In my painting, “The Seahorse,” it has a light on the top left of the painting that is the sun’s reflection and darkness of the deep ocean along the bottom. The colors of the ocean are so vibrant behind the seahorse. The Sketch Aquarium at The New Children’s Museum is where everybody can color in or doodle their own kinds of fish and scan them into the aquarium. This is what inspired me to paint the seahorse.
Q: What was your first impression of The New Children’s Museum when you visited?
Joel: Visiting The New Children’s Museum filled me with happiness; there are so many cool exhibits and ways to interact creatively. Some of my favorites were Sketch Aquarium, The Wonder Sound, The Rain House, and all the cool areas to create art. This was a very exciting experience for me to relive my childhood.
Q: Why do you think experiencing or making art is important for children based on your own experience?
Joel: As a child, I was diagnosed with autism. Social skills and interacting with kids and adults was difficult. I was drawing at age 5 and everyone loved my art. It connected me to people. I also learned my subjects better if I was taught through art – a lot of my art is about events and people from history. The arts I love also include music and theatre. I really love Shakespeare. Children need to experience all kinds of art to express their creativity. The New Children’s Museum is perfect for kids to experience art and be creative.
The New Children’s Museum hosts Accessibility Mornings regularly throughout the year, which provides special needs families the opportunity to explore the Museum with comfort and safety before it opens to the public. Our next Accessibility Morning is October 20, 2018. Learn more about the program here.