Oh My Goodness!

TEAMWORK:  Ben Jackson, right, admires his heart drawings, held by artist Lisa Grennell, who screen printed his works on to paper.
TEAMWORK: Ben Jackson, right, admires his heart drawings, held by artist Lisa Grennell, who screen printed his works on to paper.

Ben Jackson is smiling broadly, feeling very pleased about opening his first solo exhibition at the Refinery Artspace.

"I'm feeling very excited," he announces enthusiastically.

At 21, Ben is becoming independent, his parents Viv Nelson and Dave Jackson are building him a flat out in the family garage.

And now an exhibition.

Ben is no ordinary young man. With autism and Down syndrome he is different from most of us, but has the same aspirations as anyone with an artistic nature.

Art was his favourite subject at Waimea College. Ben drew many images, and ballpoint on A4 is his favourite medium and scale.

Jane Keyes, special needs teacher at Waimea College, learnt the art of screen printing from artist Lisa Grennell, then taught Ben while at school.

His caregiver, Linda Guyer, says art is a big part of Ben's life.

"He's always drawing, and talking about ideas, his mind never stops," she says. " Ben has so many ideas, he never runs out."

Now with Lisa Grennell as his technician, more than 50 of Ben's drawings will be exhibited as screen prints on Fabriano cotton paper.

The Refinery Artspace have generously provided a gallery space for the show, titled Oh My Goodness, commission-free. Grennell has spent many hours working with Ben, reproducing his ballpoint drawings and conferring with him about the colours and which drawings to run with.

Grennell acknowledges the huge team effort that has helped get the show together; parents, teachers, caregivers have all supported Ben through his journey.

As an artist Grennell has been careful to really take on board what Ben wants, rather than impose her own ideas.

"I was aware of not influencing choices with my own artistic preferences," says Grennell. "The colours are true to Ben, what he would choose."

Subjects range from a wedding couple, friends together, domestic items with a focus on tea cups and old world items. Some will be exhibited framed, others mounted on card.

Of the dozens of ballpoint drawings Ben has created, hearts appear regularly, one of his favourite icons. There is also a print which features place names around New Zealand. Ben assures me he has been to all of them, even Bluff. Then again he could be pulling my leg. One thing is for sure with this young man, he is quick witted, absolute and irrepressibly positive.

Once the exhibition is up and running at the Refinery, Ben will have his own stall at the Refinery Sunday markets, which he is very enthusiastic about.

"I'm feeling excited about having a stall, yes very excited," he says grinning.

Plans are to print some of Ben's designs on to bags and tea towels, which can be purchased online or at the market.

Ben also has a Facebook page which features news and his latest work.

Oh My Goodness!, Ben Jackson, the Refinery Artspace, Halifax St, Nelson to February 22.