One small sampling of the many clay figures Efrain Perez creates from memory.
Efrain won 12th place in the Valley Metro transit bus wrap contest. Complying with all the contest criteria, Efrain featured the state flag, and used alternating saguaros and cactus flowers in the border to represent Arizona. He was the only person with autism who entered the contest.
Using pencils, Efrain recreates from memory the various characters featured in video games. Some of his art has been displayed at the Arizona State University Library.
Drawn in pencil, Efrain’s reproduction of the Mona Lisa also received an award.
Representing Greenway High School, Efrain’s clay figurines won 3rd Place at the Arizona State Fair.
Experimenting with mixed media and 3D art, Efrain recreated the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland.
For a change of pace, Efrain creates and recreates cityscapes out of Legos.
Fine art takes many forms. Drawings, paintings, sculpture and photography are just a few. Seventeen-year-old Efrain Perez is a budding artist. His preferred media are pencils and clay.
A member of the DES Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) since age 6, Efrain and his mother, Angelina, have worked tirelessly to improve Efrain’s skills, both in his art and in managing the symptoms of autism. Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), includes a range of conditions that may be characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors and verbal communication. Because of ASD, Efrain was nonverbal until age six.
Thanks to early and intensive speech and occupational therapies provided through DDD, Efrain has made significant progress. “A lot of the neurologists have told me that if I wasn’t so aggressive with it, he wouldn’t be as successful as he is now,” said Perez. A medical professional herself since the age of 18, Perez understood Efrain’s diagnosis. Her response: “Let’s get him the support and the help that he needs.”
“I had him in speech therapy [and] occupational therapy, [and was] really aggressive with his therapies at such a young age. He’s been able to overcome some of those obstacles. And because of that, he’s higher functioning.”
Also because of ASD, Efrain is prone to occasional behavioral issues that Perez calls meltdowns. To help counteract a meltdown, Efrain uses his art.
“If he’s having a bad day at school or when he just needs to kind of reset and focus, he has a ton of … [sketch] books at school and they let him work it out,” said Perez. Drawing helps Efrain “calm himself down, to soothe himself. It’s a tool that we like to use for him to get him to redirect some of that meltdown [behavior].
And his artwork is beautiful!
“I’ve been working very hard,” said Efrain. “I’ve been practicing ever since elementary [school].”
With his drawings, Efrain starts with a regular No. 2 pencil then adds color with colored pencils. “He’s just starting to dabble with paint and 3D art,” said Perez. Sometimes, the family goes to the movies, such as an Avenger movie. “He’ll come home and draw [the characters] to the detail,” commented Perez, “like the curls on their hair or the buckles on their belts. He’s really good at memorizing every little detail.”
Efrain confirmed, “And I’m good at memorizing the characteristics and personality.”
One pastime the family used to enjoy was strolling up and down the aisles at the now closed Toys R Us stores. “It was one of the places that we could go,” said Perez. “He could just walk around [and] look. He didn’t have to buy anything; [it] was just a thing that we did [together], me and him.”
Continuing, Perez said, “He would go look at the toys and see what they didn’t make and want to come home and make it with clay.”
As good as his drawings are, his clay figurines are also impressive. Using different colored clay, Efrain creates well-scaled, colorful replicas of the movie and video game characters he watches. Like a budding Mark Boudreaux, one of the chief artists of Star Wars figurines and toys, Efrain finds the supporting-role characters more appealing than the main characters.
With his dream to someday work at Toys R Us disrupted, Efrain may now consider making characters for other toy outlets or manufacturers.
Reflecting on the past 10-plus years the family received DDD services, Perez advises other parents of children with autism to get the support they need, not take it personally and to “muscle your way [through].”
“Try not to let the emotional part take over because the minute you let the emotional part take over, it’s almost as if you’re robbing [yourself] of getting the help [needed] for yourself and your family.”
Although Efrain is not currently receiving DDD services, because “he’s got it under control,” Perez was quick to compliment DDD staff, especially two DDD Support Coordinators with whom she and Efrain had worked: Beckie Richison and Jean Pedregn.
“They’ve both been amazing,” said Perez. “They both have been a blessing to our family.”
To see more samples of Efrain’s work, visit TheArtistEfrain on Instagram.
By Lyn Riley