Stars don’t talk

He is an artist, diagnosed with autism, whose paintings sell for hundreds of dollars and he's only three. Meet Vinnie Macris.

Vinnie Macris can’t say many words – altogether, around ten. One of the ten words he can say is ‘star’. That’s what Vinnie calls the dust particles from reflecting light that mesmerises this toddler.
A three-year-old diagnosed with autism, Vinnie from Brisbane is on his way to becoming a true star.
For this child artist, speech is simply not his way of expression – painting is.
The condition that Vinnie was diagnosed with at 22 months is similar to that of Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Julian Assange and many other people considered to be geniuses. A pervasive development disorder (PDD-NOS) is a typical type of autism, classified as a high functioning condition.
It was Vinnie’s mum, Summa Shing, who gave him paints and canvas for the first time, after noticing he would get upset every time he got dirty. She decided to try and produce a counter-effect, through confronting him with his fear.
“I thought I would give him paints and try and get him to experiment with colour and the texture of paint – and so I did. If my son didn’t like to get dirty, I made him do so. I thought to myself, ‘what a nice way to get dirty with the paint’ – it’s colourful and has nice texture, and it’s pleasant,” Summa tells Neos Kosmos.
Vinnie’s first encounters with paints and canvas were ‘from a distance’. The early phase of his art is characterised with no touch associated with the paint. All of his early paintings have been done with tools, which make them even more unusual for someone at the age of two. Later on, as he started enjoying the creative process, it seemed that getting messy didn’t bother Vinnie anymore.
It wasn’t a long time after that Vinnie’s work was recognised by Summa’s grandfather, an art teacher. The moment he commented on how good the artworks were was the moment when Vinnie’s gift – unusual and unique for a two-year-old – was revealed.
“When I said the artworks were Vinnies’ he couldn’t believe it,” Summa Shing tells Neos Kosmos.
That was before Vinnie was diagnosed with autism. After Vinnie’s parents, Summa and Leon, noticed his repetitive behaviour; intent focusing on one item only and spinning objects, and most of all, the lack of speech – the devastating diagnosis was confirmed.
However, having had the diagnosis and seeing her son growing and progressing, in a weird way – as Summa explains today – Vinnie’s autism has “kind of turned into a positive thing”.
“Put it this way – I don’t have to worry about him academically at all. I don’t think so, his intelligence is there,” Summa says.
Once Summa shared her son’s work on Facebook and other social media, people showed interest and amazement with the child artist’s paintings. Owner of the C Gallery in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, Troy Williams, was no exception. Vinnie’s use of colour and composition blew him away, and before you know it, the first solo exhibition of a three-year-old Vinnie Macris was organised, in April this year.
The opening of Vinnie’s exhibition was a sell-out show, with more than 250 people attending. Twenty-five of Vinnie’s paintings were sold, for around $12,000. Ten per cent of all profits were donated by Vinnie’s parents to the AEIOU Foundation, for children with autism.
“What’s happening at the moment hasn’t changed us at all. The only reason we had the exhibition organised – and it was organised in autism awareness month, April – is because we wanted Vinnie purely to be an example for people with autism and the general public; to see that not all kids with autism are the ones we see on TV, with huge behavioural problems. I wanted people to see that kids with autism can actually be quite brilliant, and I did that. My only intention was to heighten autism awareness, and to help people who may be thinking their kids have autism. To make them aware and to get them into early intervention. That was my intention from the beginning. There were people at Vinnie’s opening exhibition who had seen him on the Today morning show and got on the plane from Sydney to Brisbane to come and see the exhibition the same day. They got inspired by him because their grandchildren have autism. And that’s what I wanted to achieve,” Summa tells.
Brilliant work of a genius and child prodigy, or just a product of a toddler’s play with paints – either way, Vinnie’s artwork has been described as art in its purest form, untouched by life’s pollutants.
What makes Vinnie interesting for art critics is the fact that he can keep his colours distinct and separate, while using up the whole space on canvas.
“I think his art is described like that because he is a child – not necessarily because of the autism. Kids are uninhibited. He has no influence from the outer world and no baggage that we all get as we get older,” says mother Summa.
In family Macris’ Brisbane apartment, a small balcony is now turned into a studio. When the young artist is inspired, he goes to his studio and starts painting. And as it happens with every true artist – you can’t force him to do so. Sometimes he is in his studio day after day, sometimes he simply doesn’t feel like painting for weeks.
“He knows what he wants. If he asks for blue paint and you give him red, he won’t paint with it. When you meet Vinnie, you realise he knows what’s going on around him,” Summa says.
Once the artwork is finished, Vinnie walks away and doesn’t go back to it anymore. His technique is now characterised with a lot more being done with hands, rather than using tools. He doesn’t mind the feel of paint and getting dirty anymore. To describe his obsession with paints, it is enough to say that Vinnie’s first words were “Mum, open orange (paint)”.
Vinnie Macris is now attending an early intervention program, which his mother Summa highly recommends to other parents with autistic children.
“It’s the key. The earlier you can get them in – the better chances there are for them to go to a mainstream school. I have no hesitation that Vinnie will go to normal school,” she says.
And when it comes to parents – Summa, an Aussie makeup artist of Chinese background, and Australian born Leon, with origins from Kefalonia – they are happy for Vinnie to paint, as long as he wants to.
“I am happy for him to keep having exhibitions and for people to keep buying his work if they love it as much as they seem to. And we’ll keep donating money to autism awareness.
“I think it’s such a wonderful and ethical way for a three-year-old kid to work and make his own money, for his therapy and paints. We don’t know what may be down the track for Vinnie, who knows? But he is already helping himself out. How awesome is that?” says Summa enthusiastically.
To see or purchase Vinnie’s artwork, visit his website www.vinnieart.com