Understanding dyslexia through art
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Published Thursday 24 December 2015 at 11:29pm
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FOR artist Rachel Green, life became easier after a dyslexia diagnosis.

First published in the 12 June 2015 edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.

Above: Artist Helen Timbury discusses her lino prints with visitors at the Dyslexic Warriors exhibition opening. Photos: William PJ Kulich.

The Thorpdale resident is one of four artists who have put together an exhibition, Dyslexic Warriors, which is now on display at the West Gippsland Arts Centre. Rachel and exhibition organiser Russell Lilford both suffer from the learning disability, while Trish Naus and Drouin artist Helen Timbury have experienced the dyslexia of people they know.

“The type of dyslexia that I’ve got is quite slight but it’s like a visual dyslexia with colours,” Rachel told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.

“I have to have coloured sheets over things when I read to be able to absorb the information. It means I have to read things again and again and again to understand what the information is.

“It makes you have a really good memory of things, like you get to rely on your memory a lot more and I think with art, and because of the colour thing, it’s a spacial thing.

“Everybody in my family is dyslexic, my brothers are severely dyslexic and my father [is too], and my elder brother left school when really young, was always told he wouldn’t ever achieve anything in life, and now he’s one of the IT guys at a university.

“He actually is in a position where he is teaching people university degrees, he’s self-taught doing Microsoft courses on the internet, and he said with computers he almost feels them spatially, and that’s how I think.

“I have more of a maths brain than a literature brain, and that’s sort of what I’m trying to say with my artwork – it’s a very physical problem, and because our language is left to right.

“Language is really a human construct and in a lot of cultures language is pictorial, like in Asian written script, like Thai script is almost musical in its structure.

Above: ‘Rose Coloured Spectacles’ by Helen Timbury

“What I was trying to say with the pieces I put in the exhibition was that animals don’t have written language but they do alright and you’re labelled as stupid or not clever enough or not good enough because you don’t read fast enough… when it’s just something made up by western society.”

Rachel’s works also call on outdated medical and mental theory and her challenges of growing up with dyslexia.

“The work I’ve put in, the four new pieces, two of the heads [featured in the works] I got from a really old Victorian book and they’re of [phrenology] and the written text I’ve glued on there is from a book I always tried to read as a kid called What Katie Did Next, which was sort of an adventure thing for girls,” she said.

“A lot of the text that I’ve chosen to stick on there is about self esteem, hiding [and] acting like a clown.”

The exhibition name inspired Helen Timbury to produce a work called the Dyslexic Warrior. It depicts a woman proudly standing, stick and shield in hand, on top of a mountain of books.

“Russell Lilford came up with the phrase to highlight the everyday struggle of those with dyslexia,” Helen said.

“I loved the words and wanted to create an image to show that reading can be the enemy, or something to be conquered for some people, like my daughter.

“She loves books but reading and writing can be frustrating. I started drawing and found I wanted to create a strong female figure that could be inspirational to girls who perhaps have problems with reading and low self esteem.

“The figure is a mixture of me and my daughters. Wanting to keep the work optimistic I added Wonder Woman pants and used uplifting colours.”

Helen said her family had faced some challenges with dealing with dyslexia.

“I’ve learned to take a step back and look at the big picture,” she said.

“Standard academic eduction is not the answer for everyone; people learn in many different ways.

For Helen, the form and shape of writing has always been an inspiration. She has in the past printed on old book pages, but not for works on dyslexia.

“I print on old book pages for aesthetic reasons and also because I love printed pages and typography,” she said.

Above: Works by Rachel Green and Helen Timbury on display at the exhibition

“The tone of the velvety yellowed paper seems to enrich the image.

“Also I love old fonts because I am a graphic designer and was trained just before computers. I have a drawer full of Letraset in my studio.”

Helen said she hoped the exhibition would start a conversation.

“Many people are aware of the spelling problems dyslexics have, for example the fun T-shirt slogan: “Dyslexics Untie!” Jokes aside, less is known about the way dyslexic people process information,” she said.

“In short, their brains are wired differently and they see the world in a very visual way.

“Labelled as a learning disability, it is now perceived by many as a blessing which affords them a unique outlook to the world at large.

“There have been a number of truly great people to back this up throughout history Leonardo DaVinci, Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso to name a few.

“However, our education system is based on words, books and lectures and this has shaped our whole idea about intelligence.

“It’s no accident that many of those living with Dyslexia have amazing strengths in areas of design, creativity, athletic ability and social skills.”

Rachel said she hoped that visitors to the exhibition would not only learn more about dyslexia, but also consider being tested themselves.

“If people just question if they are dyslexic, if it is taking them longer to complete work… or they’re studying and they can’t remember things [that would be good,]” she said.

“Maybe they’ll question ‘maybe I’m dyslexic’ and get tested, because it made my life a lot easier when I found out what was wrong.

“Then also you’ve got the opportunity to ask for help and discuss it with your family rather than just being blamed that you’re lazy or you can’t do things.”

Dyslexic Warriors will be open until 26 June. Helen will present an artist talk from 14:00 to 15:00 on Wednesday 17 June, and a free open drawing workshop for all ages will be held from 15:45 until 16:45 on Wednesday 24 June.

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Tags: art dyslexia helen timbury warragul warragul & baw baw citizen west gippsland arts centre rachel green

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