I’m sitting at a table with Walter Kresnik and Quintin Rodriguez. They’re bent over big sheets of paper with pencils and markers and paint, drawing hearts.
We’re not talking about the kind of puffy, stylized hearts most at home on Valentine cards or sailors’ arms. These are the real deal — anatomically correct hearts, complete with valves and chambers and … veins.
The room’s an open space the size of several classrooms put together, full of color and light and activity. Artwork covers the walls, and hangs from clotheslines, strung above tables full of working artists. Kevin Roach is one of them.
“We start early in the morning, and then we're really creative and we think of something we want to draw and we don't copy. And it gives us joy!” he tells me.
Roach has been making art here for almost ten years. Right now, he’s working on an incredibly intricate drawing of ants. Lots of them. Each one is outlined in black Sharpie, and then colored in with red. It looks like a lot of work. Roach says he’s been working on it for three weeks.
“We don't rush anything. We like to keep things going but make it kind of beautiful.”
"Why ants," I ask him?
“Because they're real and they're a part of our world,” he says, and then bends back over his work.
Real and part of our world. That’s a pretty good description of what it feels like to be here, and what Creativity Explored is all about. Visitors are welcomed. The doors to the studio are wide open.
“The really, really important thing in all of our lives is human connection,” says Amy Taub, the executive director at Creativity Explored. “It’s that very simple moment when you look into somebody's eyes and you say hello. And it happens on a daily basis here.”
Taub says the artists here come from all walks of life. Some have intellectual disabilities, some are on the autism spectrum, some have cerebral palsy. But here, they’re not defined by their disability -- they’re artists whose work is collected and exhibited and sold.
“In the Bay Area there's been a real value placed on people's creativity and ways to communicate and that stems from the strong belief that all people have something to say,” says Taub.
One of the teachers here is Victor Cartagena. He’s a Salvadoran-born artist who’s been working in the Bay Area since the 1980s. It’s his table where the drawings of ants and hearts are happening.
“I teach what I do, the way I do my work, and that's the way I can guide them. Just introduce them to a new way of seeing that’s all about simplicity and lines. A way of thinking,” he explains.
Cartagena leans in to look at Walter Kresnik’s anatomically correct hearts, and gives him a big smile.
“Walter tends to do repetition, but every single heart is a totally different shape and size. But it's all coming from the same idea,” says Cartagena.
The hearts represent people who are special to Kresnik. Cartagena asks him who they are, and carefully starts to write the names next to the hearts.
At the other end of the table, Kevin Roach takes a break from his drawing, now covered with even more ants.
“Are you ever surprised at the art you make?” I ask him.
“Oh my God! I am. I'm really shocked. Sometimes I'm shocked that I even did it,” he says.
And that’s when I notice what’s at the center of each ant: a little heart.
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If you would like to meet some of the artists and see their work, head over to Creativity Explored. Their new exhibit, Shoerageous, runs from Aug. 14 - Oct. 1, 2014.