By Debra Muzikar
“You’ll be little better than a sign-writer if you pursue art as a career,” said Steven’s art teacher looking with disgust at the abstract painting of a naked female torso with ample breasts. Steven had drawn the headlight of a motorcycle for the women’s head, handlebars for her shoulders, and below her waist appeared the front wheel of the bike. The figure sped gloriously down Route 66.
“You’re a deviant,” his teacher continued tearing up the painting to Steven’s dismay. This was not the only time Steven experienced humiliation by educators and students. Shortly after this, fifteen-year old Steven dropped out of school. He gave up his art for many years.
Since birth Steven had difficulty. As a fetus he was traumatized by radiation and drugs. At birth his eyesight was damaged. He later developed a partially-detached retina; the broken sections of filament which are meant to hold his retinas in place float past his vision, creating a disorientating effect.
When he was less than seven months old his six-year old sister Alexandra, who was fond of playing in the DDT-sprayed fields, died of leukemia. Several other children in the small town of Tirau on the north island of New Zealand also died of similar maladies.
Steven’s family relocated many times before he turned five. His mom and dad were hard-working people who lived a frugal life. His mom, a former cake decorator, spent many hours sewing late into the night to pay for Christmas presents for her remaining three children.
Steven loved needlepoint and believes his detail-oriented paintings have been influenced by his mom’s precision when sewing.
“I recall one year I watched her spend ten hours cutting out and hand sewing small lace roses onto a local girl’s wedding dress because my mother wanted it just right … not obsessively but because that’s the way it should be … this is an ideal I’ve tried to maintain through my artistic journey.”
As a child, Steven was hypersensitive to bright lights, loud noises, and rough fabrics. He was haunted by nightmares and shadowy figures. He had trouble sleeping staying awake most of the night.
Misunderstood, he turned to animals especially cats. Insects fascinated him, in particular the praying mantis and gum emperor moth, both of which still intrigue him today.
He made his mom laugh in delight by his captivation with a praying mantis egg case hatching and all the gorgeous tiny creatures making their way into the new world.
Steven’s most pronounced fascination, was with an ancient civilization. His studies of Egypt started at age six when his mom took him to Auckland museum and he saw the sarchophagus of a nine-year old girl.
“I thought it so beautiful,” Steven says.
From then, Steven requested Egyptian books and gifts for birthdays and Christmas. He spent hours in the library reading about his favorite topic.
The library served two purposes.
“I was able to feed my fascination and I was safe from the bullies who avoided libraries.”
Steven’s education was traumatic. Educators weren’t trained on differences. He was bullied and taunted by peers. He found he had areas of brilliance and other areas of deficits.
“While I was quite gifted with spelling, I struggled with grammar and structure.”
His teacher’s gave him harsh punishments for his mistakes.
“I had to write sentences 100’s of times. I couldn’t do it or explain why I couldn’t do it. Then they would give me even more sentences to write.”
He came home with red hands where his teachers struck him on the palms with a wooden ruler as a punishment.
“I began to hate school,” he recounts.
Steven escaped into the green hilly pastures populated with small streams. Here he began a lifelong love of nature and it’s smaller inhabitants such as freshwater crayfish, tadpoles, frogs, and small lizards.
After dropping out of school, he pursued a career as a chef, working various jobs but none for long. His dad was a baker so cooking was a natural vocation.
In his teens, Steven became aware he was attracted to the same sex. This made him feel even more of an outsider.
“I tried acting normal many years of my late teens in an attempt to fit into the world. I knew deep down I might never find a place in, for many reasons, one of them being my homosexuality.”
Steven was diagnosed with chronic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, and social phobias.
He experienced several major nervous breakdowns and lost his job soon after becoming homeless. To complicate things, he received a diagnosis of Hepatitis C which caused him great fatigue.
“It’s not easy … to maintain the amount of energy required to act for people, and so I became more and more of a recluse, spending most of my time alone with animals and focused on my greatest passion – Egypt.”
One day on a whim, he took up a pen and began a portrait of a man. At that time he had never heard of the word pointillism, but that’s the style that appeared in his drawing. Steven had a revelation. His true path was art.
The day before his 32nd birthday, he had a vision that changed his life.
“My partner and I decided to go on a road trip to Uluru or Ayer’s Rock, as it’s internationally known. On the way we stopped at another aboriginal sacred place Wilpena Pound. We arrived at the small country town of Hawker in South Australia. After unloading the vehicles, I sat heavily in a chair and watched the lowering sun. Instantly, I was transported and my view became sepia toned with a slight shimmer or ripple in the air. I was looking down at a pair of hands, rough black cloth on the wrists. The hands held an old illustrated Bible. I read the Bible in Latin and circled a charred post in the ground.”
This was the beginning of Steven’s mandalas and other sacred geometric paintings.
Mandala, in Sanskrit, means “whole being.”
Steven created a series of seven large mandalas in the chakra colors of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. While painting this series he developed an awareness of the energies of the mandalas. Through the art he began to work through his own childhood traumas. His heart chakra mandala took over a month to complete. He cried many times revisiting the wounds of his childhood. When working on his throat chakra mandala, he couldn’t stop talking. His psychic powers increased when working on the third-eye chakra painting. Each of the mandala paintings healed a portion of his life.
After he painted the seven mandalas, he continued to paint smaller mandalas. He performed a self-initiation ritual asking that his past mistakes be forgiven and returned to the Universe.
Soon after, he returned to Melbourne for a regular blood test for his Hepatitis C.
To his amazement, the doctor said “What Hepatitis C? You don’t have Hepatitis C.”
“But I’ve had it for seven years,” Steven responded in disbelief.
The doctor wasn’t able to give Steven an explanation about how he rid his body of the Hepatitis C and its antibodies. Steven believes it was the mandalas and his self-initation ritual which healed his body.
A couple of years later, Steven had another vision when carving the head of the falcon god Horus.
“While looking down at my hands, I had a realization that ‘I’ was actually sitting inside myself watching someone else’s hands at work. In that instant I was transported to a sunny stone workroom where I could sit, look out of the window while creating the most beautiful and meaningful items. The feeling of humility and joy at the gifts of that life were incredible.”
According to Steven, his paintings are “not man, not woman, not good, not bad, but wholeness and harmony.” He knows the paintings are healing and often seem to “pulsate with energy.”
“Often people are too busy giving art overly intellectual labels and insights, but I just think your own personal interaction with art is strictly that- your own personal journey, similar to my feelings on spirituality in general.”
One of the techniques Steven has taught himself is the use of metallic foils to reflect light.
“The dots and building up of the dot-work conveys an energy that I and others find captivating and enchanting. Starting with old Easter egg wrappers, I began to see the potential of its use in my ancient Egyptian sculptures to more represent the original elements such as gold, lapis lazuli and other such colors.”
Steven developed the process of adhering small spots, individually cut using a hole punch, to certain point on his mandalas. This accentuates the colors used in the painting.
“When struck by sunshine they literally glow.”
Through his art and his spirituality, Steven has found self-confidence, acceptance and self-love.
In 2004, Steven was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome which explained so many things to him.
“This is why I have migraines at periods of great intimacy and why water sometimes feels like razor blades on my skin. This is also why I have difficulty with conversations.”
Often people worry about telling their child they have Aspergers. Steven feels his diagnosis gave him a deeper understanding of himself.
“Since learning of my Aspergers I have discovered many of the triggers and reactions that have haunted my existence … This helps me to get more of an understanding and awareness of myself. We often are taught to think it’s part of our human condition; often it’s part of a greater condition.”
Steven has learned to give himself a break on bad days and to accept things that he can’t change. He has learned to flow with the process and “allow myself to grow in a more positive and creative direction.”
He has also modified his diet to be gluten-free.
“I’m sensitive to environmental issues and stress levels. I’ve begun creating a collection of gluten-free recipes and practices to reduce my stress.”
As far as his career as an artist, Steven continues to evolve his repertoire. Recently, he developed a technique of pouring resins on his larger paintings “to add depth and richness. A process akin to Faberge’s use of Guilloche enameling.”
In the future, Steve hopes to return to stone carving, carpentry, clay and plaster work and larger scale painting. Steven’s first solo exhibition was last April as part of Autism Awareness Month. He hopes to have a bigger, more expressive exhibition in April 2014. He would love to for his work to be seen in galleries. Steven’s art can be purchased on redbubble. His art can be seen on his facebook page mandalaman.
This article was written by Debra Hosseini for the Australian Autism Aspergers Network Magazine.