Something special about Patrick’s art
Patrick Forde was just a toddler when his mother first noticed his interest in colour.
In spite of his Down’s Syndrome, he would spend long periods focused on the colourful fish swimming around in the fish tank in his home, sometimes steering his baby-walker to the television screen to take in the colour.
Now 43, Patrick is drawing other people’ attention to colour in his collection of art mounted in his first solo exhibition Special Arts at the Artsplash Centre in Hastings, Christ Church.
In a congratulatory letter read at the official opening, his first art teacher Indrani Whittingham wrote “Today I am missing a very special event. Physically I am away but in spirit I am very much with Patrick as he takes his place in the spotlight.
“I met Patrick when he was 14 years old. His ever vigilant mother had invited me to tea to meet him and see some of the rug-hooking he was doing and more importantly for me to decide whether or not I could find a place for this bright young man in my junior art class.”
That evening at the Fordes’ home, Whittingham was so impressed after a one-on-one interview with Patrick that she offered him a place in her Newcomers art group and found that he “took to his art like the proverbial duck to water.”
Seeing her handicapped son working at the one thing for which she recognized he had potential was heartwarming for Pat Forde, especially since she had told Whittingham on their first meeting: “We have artists here but I don’t want to send him to anybody who is going to have pity on him. I want somebody who is going to treat him normally.”
It was characteristic of Pat’s atttitude to her son from the time he was born. She was determined her “special child” would grow up as normally as possible within his limitations. He was showered with love but not spared admonishment that she knew would influence the development of his social skills.
Take for instance the first time her little boy painted the walls with crayons.
“I said ‘come here. In this house nobody paints on the wall. Go to the kitchen, let them give you the Vim and clean my wall’.”
Patrick followed his mother’s instruction, to be rewarded afterwards with the easel which she gave him with the encouraging words “when you want to splash, splash on this.”
Under Whittingham’s tutelage, Patrick began painting in oils and soon became very proficient in that medium. He tackled a wide range of subjects, all of his own choice.
As Whittingham wrote “Patrick has strong opinions and expressed them strongly in his paintings.”
It was not long before his work became a regular feature in her Newcomers exhibition and in the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) in which he has repeatedly won awards.
So impressive is his work, his mother has had greeting cards and notelets printed for sale to assist her son in building a business from his talent.
Patrick has had encouragement from established artists like Andrea Wells and Janice Whittle. Artist Linda Herbert went to the Forde home to paint with Patrick.
The confidence of this gifted artist has always overshadowed his limitations, the reason he was accepted at the Ursuline Convent after impressing the school’s head Sister Ignatius in a personal interview. He would later advance from the Convent to the Learning Centre and also spent one year at school in Canada.
Patrick readily declares “I like colour” and his mother says “pretty” was one of the first words he learnt as a toddler, repeating it after her as he stood with his eyes fixed on his fish tank.
Art educator Mandy Thompson has been Patrick’s teacher for the last two and a half years. She reignited his interest in art after a 10-year hiatus and as she embraced him on the opening night of his exhibition, she told guests “a lot of artists will envy his ability.” Mandy described his work as “decisive, dramatic, powerful, deliberate.”
While lot of Patrick’s original work is in oils, he has been working with Mandy in lots of different media and with new topics. The rate at which “sold” tags were placed on his paintings on the opening night of the exhibition was perhaps the best testimonial to his ability and the acceptance of his work.
“The aim is to stretch and develop Patrick’s outlook. He is always evolving,” Mandy said.
As artists and guests spoke in acknowledgement of his talent, with a smile he graciously said “thank you” in response and for the entire evening could be seen working the room, greeting guests and answering questions.