The first thing you may notice about Andrew Weatherly’s artwork is the vivid colors that pop from his paintings.
Or maybe it’s the abstract shapes the New Jersey artist often fills the canvass with.
“When you see the exhibit, your eyes just keep moving all over,” says Maria Lupo, the coordinator of the Atlantic Health System’s Healing Arts program at Morristown Medical Center, which is hosting a new exhibition of Weatherly’s pieces. “It’s a very vibrant show.”
What the paintings won’t tell you is that Weatherly is only 24 years old.
Or that he was born with Down syndrome.
But that’s the point of the show, which runs through June 24. It’s called “The Art Beyond a Syndrome” and highlights the fact that Weatherly, a resident of Closter in Bergen County, isn’t held back by his condition.
In fact, his mother Leslie says, “we never look at it as a disability.”
“It’s an ability,” Andrew interjects.
“I really, really want the whole world to feel and have faith in me that I can be one of the next biggest voices,” he says.
He very well may be. Weatherly has seen his work displayed at exhibits in Boston, New York and even England. In 2014, he was chosen for an exhibition of emerging young artists at The Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.
“His art can stand on its own,” Lupo says. “But Andrew also lets people know: Don’t limit your thoughts. Anything is possible.”
Weatherly’s mentor, Kurt Haiman, even compared his paintings to the non-objective art at the Modern Museum in New York.
“His art is dynamic, very graphic, and has great fluidity in his concepts,” says Haiman, director of the Belskie Museum of Art in Closter. “In my opinion, he is a rising star in the world of abstract art.”
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that can delay people’s growth, distort their facial features, and impair their mental development. But in elementary school, Leslie was surprised to find her son was writing poetry.
“He was writing on a totally different level than he was verbally communicating,” she remembers. “If you had a general conversation with him, he wouldn’t be using the same descriptive analysis.”
Andrew began painting in middle school and also took an interest in photography. That allowed him to participate in projects like school play set designs.
“Being the photographer in the room brought him together with what was going on in that room,” Leslie recalls. “That just spoke volumes for being part of a group.”
Andrew has completed about 30 paintings. His three heroes from the art world: Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh.
He also writes almost every day — including a recent addition to his repertoire: song lyrics.
“I want the whole world to be inspired,” Weatherly says. “I want to write for those with special needs. It’s truly all about the climb.”
Last year, Weatherly’s art was featured as part of Heart and Sold, an exhibition featuring pieces by various artists with Down syndrome. It’s currently on display in Salford, England, and it has also been shown in Manchester, England; London; and New York City.
“I think we really have found a way to help bring to light that there’s an untapped resource in a lot of people,” Leslie says.
At the New York show last year, Leslie remembers, parents with children who have Down syndrome came up to Andrew and told him: “‘You really don’t know what you’ve done to help us.’”
“On the way home, I said: ‘Selling something would be really, really nice. But you’ve achieved your goal two-fold by people coming up and having benefited from meeting you,’” she recalls.
Lupo, the Healing Arts coordinator, calls Weatherly “an advocate for people that are struggling with some issue.”
“Really, in a sense, we all are,” she says. “I just see Andrew as an ambassador of hope and ability instead of a messenger of disability.”
As for Weatherly himself? He remains determined.
“I get upset when other people out there tell me I’m a loser,” he says. “There’s a whole lot of mean and rude people out there that tell me no. Well, I want them to know is: Take a look at me now. A change is gonna come.”