Forrest Sargent’s verbal vocabulary may be limited to a few dozens words, but his photographs speak volumes.
The 23-year-old Shoreline autistic man’s work was selected to join seven other artists with physical or developmental disabilities and or traumatic brain injuries for Bellevue Arts Museum’s newest Community Education Gallery exhibit. Using a letterboard to communicate, Sargent said taking pictures allows him to express his thoughts and feelings.
“Photography shows the secret beauty within all things,” he wrote. “It shows the hidden light in everything.”
Initially thought of as a mere hobby by his parents Rebecca and Denny Sargent, Forrest’s work continues to leave them in awe, his mother said.
Before he learned to use the letterboard Rebecca said she would never have known her son loved photography.
“We didn’t know if anyone was in there,” she said. “It was finally a relief … it’s very lonely not knowing your child. He couldn’t tell you if he was sick, hurting or if he needed something. It proved what we knew, it proved he was a person, too.”
Five years ago, Rebecca said she asked Forrest what he wanted for Christmas and as fast as he could, he responded, “a camera.” Forrest’s body spasms without his control, so his parents worked on a method for their son to take focused photos by attaching his camera to a monopod. She said his concentration when he’s readying to take a photo is transformative and his work shows it.
Whether it’s a close-up of a flower in bloom, or a koi fish swimming in a pond with the sky reflected in the water, Forrest images are an escape, he said.
“I am alone because I cannot say what I want when I want to,” Forrest wrote. “I can take photos to show how I feel. I wish people would understand my feelings through my photos … I want people to get pleasure and reach my mind from my photos.”
The exhibit, “Rising Stars: Works from NW Special Artists,” is a collection of works complied by the group’s director Leslie James, from the NWSA Open Studio time.
James said the mission of the artist group is offer a space for all individuals with disabilities who are looking to express themselves, and then to share those works with the community. Each of the exhibit’s artists have similar untold stories, including her 14-year-old son, Matthew, who is also autistic and verbally limited.
Matthew, a painter, uses a computer tablet to type out his words. He stated he uses acrylic paint to convey the “calculated chaos” of his brain.
“I like to look at things closely and see all the details that are sometimes missed in the big picture,” he wrote. “Sometimes it just feels good to express yourself freely on the canvas with large brushstrokes that show a lot of movement.”
One such painting depicts a boat sailing through the ocean at night. James said she has had the idea for this project in her own head for several years and was grateful for the opportunity to help these artists get their works shown.
When she started the project she brought Matthew with her, unaware of her son’s talent, she said. It wasn’t until he grabbed a brush and putting the paint to canvass that she realized what he was capable of, she said.
“I couldn’t believe he had this inside him,” she said. “All of these people are just so amazing. I’m so glad their work gets to be shared.”
The Community Education Gallery, located on the main floor of the Bellevue Arts Museum is free to the public. The show runs through March 15, 2015.