Artists First

This is the first in a series of photo essays exploring the theme of Artists at Work. I created this photo essay at the studio Artists First in St. Louis, Missouri.

Dave Walter  (“Psychedelic Dave”) interweaves lines and dots on a piece on slate in his signature style. 6.21.2017. Sony A7II 110mm 1/15@f6.3 ISO16

I wandered into Artists First one day completely by chance, attracted by the colorful storefront. The door opened to a world of art and inspired me to create the first in a set of photo essays showing artists at work.

Jim Edward Douglas, Jr. sketches his perfect woman, combining elements from various sources including modern photographs and Grecian statues. 6.21.2017. Sony A7II 49mm 1/60@f4.5 ISO1250.

Artists First is an open studio for people with disabilities – or rather people with abilities. I spent some time with the artists before bringing my camera to the studio. Some talked about their disabilities, but most did not - probably because they didn’t seem to matter much within the studio walls.

Jasmine Raskas begins a new painting, layering and swirling colors in abstract forms. Jasmine has a lot to say. Follow her blogs where she talks about her art, her condition and her life as a competitive rock climber. 6.21.2017. Sony A7II 122mm 1/125@f6.3 ISO500.

The studio is a place to explore new artistic techniques, sometimes with the input of mentors, but often using art in its purest form – for self-expression.

Cha Cha (Chaquetta Nichols) helps keep the energy positive with her infectious laughter and colorful abstracts. She is always quick to do a kind turn for her fellow artists.6.21.2017. Sony A7II 115mm 1/30@f6.3 ISO1600.

The overall vibe in the studio is chill. The artists have fun while they work. They show respect and care for each other, creating an accepting community and even welcoming me, an outsider, easily into their world.

As Ricky Douglas sketches, an intricate vampire begins to appear. Every line adds another detail bringing the character to life. 6.22.2017. Sony A7II 89mm 1/40@f5.6 ISO1600.

As in any studio, artistic abilities vary. Many of the artists are advanced in their chosen genre; others are exploring new artistic abilities. The artists grow in their abilities, but through experience and interaction with other artists rather than through formal classes.

Charles Baunach creates a personalized t-shirt for a volunteer. This time he’s working with diagonal lines, but he may do something different on the next shirt. No two are ever the same just as each artist is unique. 6.21.2017. Sony A7II 130mm 1/80@f6.3 ISO800.

The artists are generous with their artistic abilities, creating personalized Artists First t-shirts for volunteers and other friends of the organization. Many of the products created in the studio will be sold at art fairs or auctioned to raise money.

A collection of paints and brushes used by Jasmine Raskas. 6.21.2017. Sony A7II 106mm 1/125@f6.3 ISO1600.

Donations to the studio help keep the art supplies stocked. Some are modified to help individual artists, but most are not. The artists are free to use their imagination to create without worrying about whether or not materials are available.

Dave Walter gazes through a vintage glass window now re-purposed as a striking piece of art. 6.22.2017. Sony A7II 105mm 1/30@f6.3 ISO1600.

It’s tempting to see individuals with disabilities as broken, but art is a core human ability connected to who we are and what we feel and it runs deep. Through art we can see that no one is ever wholly broken.

Alehra Evans was working on textiles when I was in the studio, but proudly shows me one of her finished paintings, this one of Nelson Mandela. 6.22.2017. Sony A7II 83mm 1/50@f5.6 ISO1600.

Most of the artists love to display their work and do so at gallery shows and art fairs. Creating art brings to all artists a sense of accomplishment and pride. It also allows the artists to communicate emotions and ideas that words may never be able to fully express.

Cha Cha (Chaquetta Nichols) takes a break from her sketching to give me two thumbs up. 6.21.2017. Sony A7II 77mm 1/60@f7.1 ISO800.

Artists First is a vibrant community of artists and I will look for more of their art in the St. Louis community.Each artist is an inspiration to others who, for whatever personal reason, believe they can’t. These artists show every day that they can.

A generous "goodbye" from Jim Edward Douglas, Jr.  6.21.2017. Sony A7II 24mm 1/60@f9.0 ISO800.

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