Express yourself

Casey Spence, 15, with his exhibition of work at the Creative Cohesion Studios, Nile Street, Sunderland.

Casey Spence, 15, with his exhibition of work at the Creative Cohesion Studios, Nile Street, Sunderland.

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IF you’d asked Casey Spence in January whether art lovers would be gathering to admire his work, he probably would have laughed in your face.

Yet here he is, six months later, sitting in a room surrounded by his work that has gone on display at Sunderland studios, Creative Cohesion.

And the 15-year-old has come a long way from the stick men – albeit much better than the ones I can create – he used to sketch before tearing up the paper and tossing it in the bin.

His journey to help him hone his artistic talents has taught him to delve into his emotions, explore how he’s feeling and introduce colour to his work.

Casey is the first person to enrol on Artifact (NE), a community interest company based at the Nile Street studios.

As part of the work they carry out, co-directors Joe Robinson and Lesley Ann Smith have launched a series of educational programmes for people aged 11 to 25.

And as part of this, they run nationally recognised qualifications in the Arts and Leadership Arts Awards.

After enrolling in January, the Biddick School pupil graduated with a silver qualification – the equivalent of an A to C GCSE – becoming the first in what the company hopes will be a long line of students.

Casey, of Roker, said: “I’ve really enjoyed the course. It’s given me confidence and focus.

“I started off drawing from an early age and have always loved it.

“I started off just doing stick figures and then started drawing booklets of ninjas and FBI characters.

“From there I went on to drawing monsters and unusual things like that, and then I just started free-styling and now I just draw whatever I want, and my work represents what I do and how I’m feeling.”

Casey prides himself on being able to use episodes and events from his life and use art to digest and reflect on them.

By using abstract images and ideas, he hopes to encourage the viewer to think about his work and draw their own meaning from it.

“What I draw depends on how I feel.

“Each painting has its own meaning and shows a piece of my life,” he said.

“But I want people to look at my art in their own way, and it’s interesting to hear their different points of view.

“I would never have thought I’d be doing anything like this before in my life.

“I never really thought I had a talent, and never knew I had so much potential, and I don’t think I could have done it without Joe and Lesley.” As well as spending every Thursday and Friday afternoon at the studio, where fine artist Joe would explore Casey’s art and help him develop techniques, they also took trips to art exhibitions across the region, including Sunderland’s National Gallery for Contemporary Art and the Biscuit Factory in Newcastle.

And as part of his final assessment, Casey had to research, develop and put on an exhibition of his work, which took pride of place at Creative Cohesion on Friday and Saturday.

He said: “This is a one-in-a-million opportunity, and the chance of a lifetime to show what I can do. I’m really proud because I didn’t think I could achieve anything like this.”

Now that Casey has graduated from the course, he has pledged to continue with his art and is hoping to get some of his work printed onto T-shirts.

Lesley said: “When he first came to us, he didn’t understand why he just drew.

“He would throw his work in the bin and didn’t reflect on it.

“Now he can look at it and visualise his thoughts and feelings by putting images on paper, which has also helped a lot with his communication skills and in a lot of other ways.”

Joe added: “His paintings have become valuable objects to him, something outside himself that has value and that’s given him self-esteem.

“He is a very talented artist and has developed in so many ways. It has been great to see him come on and what he has achieved.”