First published: Summer 2019 

Through his painting, Oscar Azmitia has found a way both to hold onto memories and to keep a version of his collected objects

Oscar Azmitia had a difficult childhood. The youngest of three, he was born in Manhattan in 1978 and raised in Queens, New York. From the age of seven until he was 18, he was home-schooled by his mother after a very difficult time in the public school system. He found being in the company of other children very stressful, and he was teased and bullied for being different and immature. He felt misunderstood and confused, and began to have terrifying nightmares which persisted for years.

Azmitia withdrew from the outside world and retreated into his imagination. Drawing became an important vehicle to help him cope with feelings of isolation, anxiety and depression. He sketched prolifically and, influenced by comic books and GI Joe, often drew superheroes and cartoon characters. Eventually, he moved on to creating storyboards featuring his own original characters and texts. History was another favourite subject for Azmitia, and he enjoyed staging elaborate battle scenes using three-dimensional paper drawings. Religion would also become a key theme in his work – his family members were devout, churchgoing Christians and, as part of his daily education, he was required to memorise biblical stories and scriptures from a Baptist home-schooling curriculum that his mother used. This had a lasting impact and, as he matured, he began to incorporate his faith and extensive knowledge of The Bible into his art.

The Genealogy of the Messiah, 2013, acrylic on used embroidery hoop, 12 x 12 in. / 30.5 x 30.5 cm, courtesy: Pure Vision Arts

For many years, Azmitia had no explanation for his social difficulties. It was not only the challenge of interacting and fitting in with others but also of concentrating and staying focused. At one point, he was misdiagnosed with attention deficit disorder but, when he was 23, he was finally diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Azmitia explains, “Because of my Asperger syndrome, it was hard for me to make friends so I developed a complex imaginary world, where I could illustrate my thoughts, feelings and memories. As an adult, my paintings are a way to express the loneliness, fear and sadness I have experienced. Humour is also important in my art and helps me get through the tough times in life. Through art, I can change the narrative of my past and become a victorious hero interested in reconciliation, instead of a person seeking revenge and being bitter. It is very important to me for my work to have a positive message and be inspirational to others.” And, true to his word, he creates devotional objects, each one a meticulously created labour of love with an uplifting message of hope.

A turning point came for Azmitia in 2006, when – wanting to develop his artistic skills and interests – he began attending Pure Vision Arts, a not-for-profit studio for artists with autism, based in New York. It gave him the opportunity to create a substantial body of work and to socialise with like-minded artists. He flourished at the studio and finally found a sense of belonging and community. The pieces he created there were intriguing, combining his knowledge of religion, biblical scriptures and elaborate texts, with his eye-catching, illustrative, comic-book style.

This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #102.

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