Meet Robyn Steward

by Cass Art

Robyn Steward has a unique story to tell, so Cass Art has given her space to tell it...

My influences artistically are quite diverse. I am a painter and musician. I have 10 disabilities and many impact on my relationship with art, but I'll come onto that in a second.

By looking at my art it's obvious that Joán Miro is a big influence, as well as Pollock. But oddly I think I draw on inspiration from people like Gerald Scarfe, Constable and Lowry, so not just contemporary artists. I think this comes from being introduced to art at an early age. I grew up in suffolk so artists that depicted country life would be something I'd recognise, but not try to emulate. Because I couldn't.

At school I remember really enjoying art lessons that involved sitting in the field and drawing the roofs in the sky line. I loved how they interconnected, and their shapes. I found I could also draw detailed pictures of motorbikes, but my parents aren't really into art so I had no idea that there was room in the world for artists like me who drew in detail but not like a product designer.

At High School I got put off with formal art education. For me it's about feel, and painting things or emotions that are part of me. So being given a task like draw a picture of people didn't inspire me because I grew up without typical friends. I don't recognise faces, I have a type of Autism called Asperger's it doesn't make me uncaring towards others, but gives me difficulty with something called Theory of mind - this is ones ability to see another's perspective. As an adult I have learnt to do this, but as a child the world was a confusing set of events often not bound by context but association, something that hurt 5 years ago could hurt me as much today because without living in contexts you're in the perpetual present meaning. What you feel today can be infinite .

As an adult I have a greater knowledge of how the world works. When I continued formal art education at the Oldham College aged 19 I found that in my drawing lessons I could emulate Gerald Scarfes style. On my 22nd birthday my gift was paints and 300gsm paper. After about 10mins I started to paint with my fingers. And this how my style bloomed.

In terms of colours, tones and layouts I think each of the artists I mentioned at the beginning had big influences.
Now I had fluency and could add in new things, for example after seeing frank bowling's drip paintings I gained a new repertoire both of colours and how to place pale and bright together and techquie,
I have a physical disability known as Hemiplegia, its a type of cerebral palsey, and means I have difficulty controlling my left hand and the rest of the left side of my body. I also have lax ligaments and poor muscle tone, hence why using a brush doesn't allow me the flow onto the page.

To me painting is like breathing emotions. It is essential to me.

People have commented on my eye for colour, perhaps this comes from the fact that I am visually impaired. I struggle in low light, bright colours are easier to see for me. I use acrylic paint sometimes with water or after wetting the canvas. On 300gsm paper the texture to me is important. I can't go in to painting on a size of paper and just do one painting I need to do about 4 before I understand how much space Ive got, 24x30cms doesn't mean a lot until I'm using that size.

I have a book that has just been published, with one of my paintings on time cover,
For almost 10 years i have worked in autism doing training, mentoring, consultancy, and have travelled all around the world.
At a conference I was Chairing I went and asked Jessica Kingsley Publishers if they would like to publish me they said yes.

And here I am 18 months later with a book.

The book consists of 10 chapters, which consider daily life - friends, emotions, the internet, and highlight the issues faced by many on the Autistic spectrum, and increase knowledge and methods of how to stay safe.
So its very practical.

Robyn Steward's book

I have also worked with engineer/producer Mark Tinley who has worked with Duran Duran, the Dandy Warhols and many others to record an EP (4 track CD). We had made a limited number and I hand painted each of the 111 sleeves. The songs on the EP link Autism and safety. For example there is a song a out sandwiches, I don't like to eat triangle sandwiches in bare feet, my mouth is a oblong for a start, but also my brain has a quota for how much sensory information it can process, and in bare feet you process more information from the floor.

This music project opened up a lot of new avenues, like the sleeves, a music video, single covers, CD design and typography.

The most recent thing I painted was an umbrella.

You can follow Robyn Steward on Twitter and be in touch with her on her website. Details of her next event with the National Autistic Society are on their website, and you can download Robyn's musical projects from iTunes.

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