by Chris Harris
Take a walk down the main hallway of the Stoner Building on the campus of Somerset Community College starting in April, and you might think you’re surrounded by a gorgeous array of storyboards for Disney Pixar films: Brightly colored animals romping about in lavish jungle scenes, the kind of thing likely to bring a smile to any child’s face.
In reality, the art tells a much more compelling — much more human — story than one is likely to see at the Saturday animated matinee.
The work of Cory Bond, a Rockcastle County native who takes painting classes at Somerset Community College (SCC) will be on display through the month of April as part of an exhibit called “Cory’s World.” The Somerset Community College East End Gallery is hosting the exhibit in collaboration with the SCC Student Government Association, and will feature over 60 different works of art.
The month of April is significant because that represents “National Autism Awareness Month” — the perfect time to showcase Cory’s work, since he was diagnosed with mild autism at 32 months of age.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a brain development condition that effects one in every 68 children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The term “spectrum” is used because it effects those who are diagnosed with autism in a wide variety of ways. Some cases are far more severe than others, and sometimes autism manifests itself in above-average acumen in visual, musical, or academic skills, according to the advocacy group Autism Speak (www.autismspeaks.org).
Cory’s talent for the visual arts is a way of adjusting to the primary way in which autism has affected him — his verbal skills.
“He has always used art as a way to express himself,” said Cory’s mother, Lisa Bond. “He can speak, he just has a real hard time holding conversations. He can express himself with the artwork in a way he can’t with his voice.”
Darlene Libbey, associate professor of art at SCC, said that she’s had Cory in four of her classes now — and it was only last week that they had a conversation for the first time.
“We would communicate, (for example) talking about color, but it would be cryptic, maybe a few words exchanged,” she said, “but last week, we started having a conversation, and he started talking about (animation studio) DreamWorks and the movie ‘Madagascar.’”
Normally, Cory’s way of engaging another person would start with a rubbing of the shoulder.
“I’ve learned a lot about communicating with him,” said Libbey. “He’d come to (fellow student) Jennifer Kosakowski and brush her shoulder, and she’d say, ‘Oh, he’s just trying to talk with you.’”
Cory’s artistic talent has been there from an early age, said his mother, going back to when he started drawing with sidewalk chalk at age 3. It’s a skill that manifested itself almost as long ago as his ASD diagnosis.
“He didn’t develop speech normally (and because of that) we had him evaluated at around 32 months,” said Lisa. “They determined he had autism, and we started speech and occupational therapy immediately.”
A 2012 graduate of Rockcastle County High School, Cory’s artistic view of the world also helped him grasp other concepts in school that non-ASD students might process in a much more conventional way.
“Almost immediately, he started drawing in grade school; when he had worksheets, he would use art,” said Lisa. “He would change numbers on the page into some kind of animal. He would make something creative out of almost anything he did.
Though Lisa insists he didn’t get his art skills from her, she’s been there all along, starting chalk drawings that Cory would finish when he was a toddler, up to taking painting classes right along beside him for extra support today.
“I just do it to help him and participate with him and be there for him,” she said.
Still, it’s being around other students outside of his own familiar world that has likely been of most benefit to Cory, and the benefit has been mutual.
“I think it’s made him a lot more self-aware in social situations,” said friend and classmate Kei Goodson. “I think it helps other students because a lot of people don’t get to interact with (individuals with ASD like Cory).
“It’s a learning experience for the students,” she added, noting that she can relate to him because her own daughter has ASD. “They get to understand that there are different social norms. They can also learn from him because he just comes in and sets up and paints. He just gets it done. He likes to remind us that we think to much about our paintings. We need to just come in and put paint on canvas.”
Libbey likewise praised Cory’s “enthusiasm,” saying that he “doesn’t second-guess. He changes a color sometimes, but he just changes the color, he doesn’t pull his hair out over it.”
Cory seeks to pursue art as a career, and has already had his works displayed at the Rockcastle County Public Library and Rockcastle Regional Hospital. Private collectors have already indicated an interest in his work, which may be viewed on his website at corybondartwork.com.
Working mainly in acrylics, Cory’s work tends to focus on animals. He also has a great interest in Africa, which manifests itself in the jungle and wildlife scenes and even depictions of Egyptian pyramids.
Libbey praised the attention to detail Cory gives to the creatures in his paintings that make them seem to jump off the canvas.
“If you go through and spend time on each piece and look at the faces of each of the animals, they have such interesting expressions,” said Libbey. “Their faces are just amazing. That requires spending some time with each piece.”
Libbey even compared Cory favorably to another artist with — currently — a much wider audience.
“I was looking at the artists selected for the Venice Biennale,” she said, referencing a prestigious contemporary art exhibit that takes place every two years in Venice, Italy. “They had a Kenyan artist represented for the first time. His work and Cory’s are almost indistinguishable.
“It has sort of that childlike quality,” she added in observance of the almost Disney-esque feel of Cory’s work, “but that’s what’s difficult when people start to make art. They lose that. I hope he doesn’t lose that.”
All of Cory’s paintings were done on campus at SCC, said Libbey. He started with the Drawing I class and moved into painting. Those will be on display along with some sketches, such as in Sharpie and watercolor.
"Cory's World" will be on display in the SCC East End Gallery from April 1 through April 30. A catered reception will be held in the gallery on April 3 from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The gallery is located in Stoner Hall on the Somerset Campus, 808 Monticello St., Somerset, Ky.
“It came about because (SCC’s) student government association wanted to do something in recognition of National Autism Awareness Month,” said Libbey. “I was at the meeting, and it was (obviously right for) Cory. It has to be Cory. He has so many paintings, he’s the most prolific artists I’ve ever been around.
“His mother said that painting to (Cory) was as important as breathing,” added Libbey. “That’s lovely. That’s real.”