When Zion Levy Stewart first started sketching people who visited his family home at age 20, everyone thought it might help him pass the time. Twenty years on, this National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participant was an entrant in this year’s 2019 Archibald Portrait Prize – the biggest art competition in the land.
Zion has Down Syndrome and experiences difficulty communicating through the spoken word. However, he has no such difficulty showing his love of life through his vibrant and colourful art, which includes sketches, painted canvases and ceramics.
With his NDIS plan in place and support from his Social Futures Local Area Coordinator, Zion is now set to take his art to a much wider audience.
Born in London and spending his teenage years in Sydney, Zion’s arrival in the North Coast NSW town of Mullumbimby coincided with his artistic flowering. His natural ability was nurtured by local disability service provider RED Inc, which set up an art studio in the Byron Bay industrial estate for Zion and other clients who had shown artistic talent.
Learning the trade
“They were very encouraging, providing art teachers and showing Zion the basics of sketching and painting,” his mother Christine says.
“Then after a while I discovered that one of my friends used to be an art teacher, so she also worked with Zion for a few years. She was able to work with him here at home twice a week, and she was so excited by Zion’s potential that she was happy to keep coming on a voluntary basis.
“One of the big things about having NDIS funding is that at last it allowed us to pay her, which was long overdue.”
Zion has exhibited his distinctive naïve and colourful artwork in many group shows but in the past few years he’s started to hold solo shows on his own. Christine says his work is now greatly admired and collected, particularly on the North Coast, and Zion has had several commissions. His work is in private art collections in the US and the UK as well as here in Australia.
One show in particular, ‘Picasso would be jealous’, was so successful that it allowed him to fund a trip to the United States and Mexico late last year, including paying for his art teacher to accompany him. She did art with him in the mornings and evenings, and he always went out with his art materials and sketched in the street.
“It was great – Mexico is absolutely fabulous,” Christine says.
Zion’s Mexican experience was the inspiration behind his most recent show, ‘Viva’, which showcased his watercolours, an addition to his more customary acrylic painting style.
Although Zion’s Archibald Prize entry – a portrait of Aboriginal elder, artist, musician and educator Walangari Karntawarra – did not make the list of finalists when they were announced on 2 May, Christine said she was just happy that he had entered.
In the meantime, Zion has plenty to keep him busy beyond his artwork. His NDIS plan funds support seven days a week, both in-home and at service provider United Disability, as well as community engagement, exercise, speech therapy and participation in a local drama group.
“Monica, Zion’s LAC, has been fabulous about helping us get all of our supports in place and explaining how we can use his funding,” Christine says.
“My desire is for Zion to be recognised for his ability rather than his disability. I also hope that his success shows just what people with disabilities are capable of – there are just so many amazingly talented people out there who can shine, given the chance.”
“My desire is for Zion to be recognised for his ability rather than his disability. I also hope that his success shows just what people with disabilities are capable of – there are so many amazingly talented people out there who can shine, given the chance” (Christine Levy, mother)
Zion’s NDIS supports have helped him:
- Develop his artistic ability
- Participate in community activities
- Maintain his physical health
- Improve his speech
Social Futures is a National Disability Insurance Scheme Partner in the Community.
Our Local Area Coordination services connect participants to the NDIS in regional New South Wales.
To contact your nearest LAC call 1800 522 679
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