Tommy Gervais

Tommy GervaisHe looked like he could have been a Rockabilly hipster with slicked back hair and at one point full grown mutton-chops. He liked to have a good time, and was once spotted having a beer at an art opening.   He had a mischievous grin and liked the ladies. He liked kung fu movies and sometimes would bust a kung fu move, and regularly dressed up as the Karate Kid on Halloween.

Tommy Gervais was born with Down Syndrome. We know his sister was involved in his life, sometimes visiting the Center. Tommy started attending Short Center North back in the 80’s and painted continuously until he left the program. Tommy was a free spirited guy and had a girlfriend named Jeannie; the two were seldom apart at program. Tommy was a favorite at SCN art shows; his work was featured in many local galleries as well as the Outsider Art Fair in New York City.

Tommy liked to paint women: redheaded vixens, cool blondes, raven-haired beauties and green-haired cuties. Tommy’s colors are bold and flat, and his women’s features are similar: puffy red lips, a cryptic nose, large-pupiled eyes, and a mountain of hair- they swell-up to dominate the canvas. Arms are tacked on like paper dolls, and sometimes not attached at all such as in “Woman in Evening Dress”. There is something iconic to his images that is very appealing in their directness. More refined works include a couture-wearing “Woman in the City”, a “Cowgirl” in profile, and the dreamy “Reclining Woman”, who is flanked by a sea of floating tulips. Other artworks feature Spock and Kirk with ominous red glowing eyes, and a painting of a levitating police car.

Around 1999 Tommy began to wander out of classes and became irritated when staff tried to redirect him. His attention diminished and his painting style changed. He began to paint in monotone colors and more and more had to be coaxed to work on his art. His interest in painting waned and he required more care. Later he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease*, and was placed in DDSO’s Community Integration Program for clients with more severe disabilities. When given the opportunity to paint again through DDSO’s Special Project “Reach In” Tommy would sometime participate for very short periods of time with one-on one care. The last 2 images in his accompanying portfolio are from that time; he primarily worked with a marker drawing in faces over colored boards, simplified but still recognizable as his work.

Tommy Passed away in the mid- 2000’s.

*ABOUT ALZHEIMERS DISEASE AND DOWN SYNDROME: FROM alz.org: Alzheimer’s Association website: As with all adults, advancing age also increases the chances a person with Down syndrome will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Because people with Down syndrome live, on average, 55 to 60 years, they are more likely to develop younger-onset Alzheimer’s (Alzheimer’s occurring before age 65) than older-onset Alzheimer’s (Alzheimer’s occurring at age 65 or older).Autopsy studies show that by age 40, the brains of almost all individuals with Down syndrome have significant levels of plaques and tangles, abnormal protein deposits considered Alzheimer’s hallmarks. But despite the presence of these brain changes, not everyone with the syndrome develops Alzheimer’s symptoms.

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