Artist Wayne Hambrick began losing his sight in 2003. The onset of age-related macular degeneration led him to resign his position as a graphic artist. Losing the life he’d been living, he nearly lost hope facing his new life.
“I was in the middle of my career as a graphic artist,” Hambrick says. “I couldn’t do that kind of work anymore, so I sat at home, bored, depressed. I was headed down a road of despair, distrust, anger and bitterness.” That was before he found a new light in the darkness of his new life…the Art Beyond Boundaries gallery.
“I found Art Beyond Boundaries through the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. (The gallery manager) interviewed me, saw my artwork, and said I ought to display. It was a changing point in my life.”
Art Beyond Boundaries, a program of the Center for Independent Living Options (CILO), opened in December 2005. The gallery gives artists with disabilities a place where their art can be shown, sold, and celebrated. It’s designed for a community of incredible talent…talent that might otherwise remain hidden.
“We opened the gallery for promoting the full inclusion and participation of artists with disabilities,” says manager Jackie Baumgartner. “We are trying to target established artists that don’t have venues to display their art. Due to financial limitations and the fact that they aren’t already recognized in the (art) community, they’re not really given a chance in other galleries. There is this perception that people with disabilities are not equal to others without disabilities. When you add ‘artist’ on top of that, it makes it even more difficult.”
Though one may think the gallery exhibits ‘outsider art,’ this is far from true. The summer show displayed an amazing array of media and technique. On one wall, blazing acrylic colors virtually leap from huge still-life paintings.
Across the gallery, true-to-life portraits come alive, exquisitely rendered in exacting detail. There’s a mosaic featuring shards of a white vase, bottoms of colored bottles, a slice of a geode, and other shining fragments. It presents a dazzling effect that echoes the grandeur of a stained glass window. It’s evident that experienced artists with real talent, not just raw talent, have created the works exhibited here.
The artists chosen to exhibit have a variety of disabilities, Baumgartner says. “It’s psychological, physical, cognitive, and sensory disabilities. Some have visual impairments, some use wheelchairs, some don’t have full use of their arms or legs, some have bi-polar.”
While providing affirmation of artists’ abilities, Art Beyond Boundaries gives them opportunities to conquer aspects of their respective disabilities. “I know one lady who was horrified at coming out of her house,” says Hambrick. “She displayed her artwork, she had some beautiful pieces, acrylic paintings. She told me how glad she was that she came out. It was a life-changing experience for her.”
Hambrick’s life has been greatly impacted by Art Beyond Boundaries. “Seeing and meeting other artists with disabilities, it’s been a life-changing experience for me. It’s given me a second lease on life. I think the most important thing here is, you can almost be normal being disabled. We live in this ‘if you don’t make it, it’s your fault’ kind of society, where it says, ‘you don’t measure up’ or ‘you didn’t want it bad enough.’ For years I’ve tried to hide my disability. But here, if you’re disabled, life goes on and you can still do something positive.”
While Art Beyond Boundaries makes a statement of inclusion, Hambrick uses some of his art to make statements that speak of his views. Two pieces try to expand awareness of high-profile issues relevant in Cincinnati, and in the U.S. as well. His painting, “Fractured City,” a streetscape seen through glass punctured with a bullet hole, is a powerful statement inspired by increasing gun violence.
“I was very disturbed by all the crime and violence in our cities, especially here in Cincinnati,” Hambrick explains. “We’ve had record-breaking shootings and killings. I wanted to elevate people’s consciousness (of it). I don’t have solutions to the problems. I know they’re political, they’re economical, they could be racial, they could be class issues. I don’t have the answers, but I wanted to do something to get people to think ‘stop this.’”
A second painting, “War Child,” created in response to the war in Iraq, draws the viewer in through an adorable image of a baby. “The war in Iraq, I’m opposed to it,” says Hambrick. “I wanted to do a cute painting that people would look at, and then look at it closely and see that it’s very anti-war. Most people say, ‘Oh what a cute little kid taking a bath in a bucket’ but when you look at it closer, you can see it’s an American kid, the future of America sitting in a military helmet of oil. It’s a strong statement put in a nice way.”
With Art Beyond Boundaries, funding by CILO is enhanced by individual donations and commissions from art sales. Artists receive 70% of all sales, unlike traditional galleries, which typically charge artists at least 50% commission. “We decided to give more to the artists than most galleries do, because these artists have disabilities, and we needed to (help them) raise their income,” says Baumgartner. “We are trying to provide them an opportunity to become equal to artists that don’t have disabilities. One day we want them to able to display in all the galleries like everyone else does.”
As with any non-profit venture, there is a great need for volunteers, and especially committee members to help direct the gallery’s future endeavors. Says Baumgartner, “It is a challenge to find volunteers in today’s world. We’re willing to take whoever is willing to help; we don’t necessarily need someone with a ton of experience. We just want people that want to help and can work with us on the various things we’re trying to do.” Including of course, practicing the art of changing lives.
Originally published at Queen City Forum (QCFMag.com)