Drake Skaggs and his sister Lea Skaggs were beaming with pride Friday evening at the opening of a gallery show featuring the art of their brother Avery Skaggs.
Avery is a Juneau-based, non-verbal artist who works from his wheelchair to create abstract expressionist works filled with color and life. He uses his hand to apply paint to canvases of all sizes – sometimes working on 10 different pieces, adding new textures and colors as layers dry.
For the last 22 months, he’s been forced to work apart from his community after the pandemic shuttered REACH’s Canvas Community Art Studio. Without access to his friends and the support staff from REACH, his caregivers at Harmony House created a studio in a garage space to continue his work. He has created several dozen paintings from his garage studio as the pandemic continued.
This month a show at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum features a selection of work Avery created during the pandemic lockdown. The exhibition is titled “Home: Disability & Creativity in a Pandemic Lockdown.”
“He’s incredibly prolific,” Drake Skaggs said of his brother. “The act of creation is a joy for him.”
Surging COVID-19 cases in the community kept Avery away from the show’s opening reception.
“It’s so poignant of this time and how people with disabilities have had to stay home,” said Averyl Veliz, who serves as Avery’s agent.
Drake Skaggs said that losing access to the Canvas Community Art Studio was tough on Avery.
“There used to be a big separation between work and home,” Drake Skaggs said, crediting his brother’s support staff for quickly setting up an art studio in his garage so that he could continue this work.
“We named this show a year ago,” said Veliz. “He used to have a community at the Canvas. But, with the pandemic, that’s all shut down.”
Veliz said that Avery visited the exhibit earlier in the week to watch his siblings set up the display.
“He was very happy and thrilled to see his artwork on the walls,” Veliz said. “It was a great experience. We are hoping that he can go and enjoy his show when fewer people are in the gallery.”
An evolving style
Describing his brother’s work as expressive and vibrant, Drake Skaggs said his family was surprised when Avery first started painting.
“It was a little baffling. We didn’t know he had this artistic sensibility,” Drake Skaggs said.
“Avery is the best of all of us,” said Lea Skaggs. “He has this flourishing creative side. Our parents taught us to apply our creativity, and Avery really does that.”
According to Drake Skaggs, Avery’s paintings have evolved over the years and often reflect the aesthetic of his mentors.
“You see the influence from others who have helped him,” he said, adding that he used to lean more on textures but now is favoring accents with flecks of white.
Lea Skaggs said the process is an integral part of the final work.
“The work is so captivating. We all see different things. Your interpretation is totally different than mine,” she said. “It’s animated and evocative. It’s his primary means of communication.”
To Drake Skaggs, the interpretive element is one of the keys to Avery’s success. He said it’s easy for art lovers to get hung up wondering what an artist meant with a particular choice.
“You don’t get to know what Avery is thinking, so you aren’t so concerned with the artist’s statement,” he explained, though he noted that brightly colored paintings often reflect more joyful days for his brother.
Avery’s art is for sale online at https://averyart.bigcartel.com/category/original-paintings and in the museum shop. Prices vary based on the size of the piece. Additional items, such as note cards, scarves and leggings featuring his art, are also available.