Originally published in the Burnaby Now here.

Art has a language all of its own for Chris Tsen.

Tsen, who has a developmental disability, is usually restricted to one-word verbal responses.

But when he sits down and picks up a paintbrush at Alternative Creations Studio in East Vancouver, he enters a world where the strokes he makes across a canvas give form to his unique expressions.

“The studio has provided a way for the artists to connect with the community and a way for them to communicate. It’s really about visual communications – communicating through art,” says Ross Birdwise, Art Facilitator at the studio, which is run by posAbilities. This community living organization supports children and adults with developmental disabilities to lead meaningful and healthy lives, by building an inclusive community where all persons are welcomed and valued for who they are and for the contributions they make.

Tsen and his fellow artists, selected by a referral from Community Living BC, come almost daily to the studio to create their works in a social setting.

Birdwise says Tsen’s studio time is meditative and calming.

“I think he finds making these works relaxing overall and there is a contemplative aspect to them that I think translates into the completed works and how a viewer might relate to them,” he explains. “There is a lot left unsaid in them, and they are very ambient and atmospheric. I believe they are non-representational. There is mysteriousness to them, not just in how or why they are made but also in how they might appear to a viewer.

“His work method is also like a transfer of energy because his art is not representational, but very much to do with how he is in the world.”

And Tsen’s artistic efforts allow his nature to shine through.

“Oh yeah, absolutely. I think with Chris, a lot of other aspects of his personality come out because his works are really abstract.”

Birdwise adds he’s worked with Tsen for quite a while and sees their relationship at times as a dialogue, which is more akin to making music with its form sometimes left open to chance and improvisation.

“With Chris the making of the art, the process itself, seems to be more important than the finished product,” Birdwise says. “Sometimes I think there is no sense of a work being finished for him, no grand kind of goal, form or outcome being sought after.

“This isn’t a weakness, it is an integral part of his artistic expression.”

And that, along with those of his fellow artists, will be on display at posAbilities’s 15th Annual Inclusion Art Show on Oct. 10 at Heritage Hall in Vancouver (3102 Main St.).

For more information about Alternative Creations Studio and posAbilities, visit online at alternativesart.ca/studio/.