Ray Thomas holds up two of his most recent paintings depicting iconic spaceships made famous in film and television.
Among the text books Ray created for himself is "Ray’s Constitution".
"Ray’s America – U.S. History" is another textbook Ray created for himself
A visit to the UFO Museum in Roswell, NM, provided inspiration for a series of science fiction genre paintings. Diane Thomas, Ray’s mother, refers to the series as “alien art.”
The Lights Out Family Fun Center commissioned Ray to paint a patriotic-themed mural. (He has also painted murals for the Arizona Counseling & Treatment Services center).
Ray primarily uses acrylic paints and has been experimenting with lava and nova gels to create textured, 3-dimensional art.
Although his verbal skills are limited, Ray Thomas, a DDD member diagnosed with autism, has the talent to communicate through other means. He draws and paints to express his understanding and knowledge. You see, Ray is an artist.
He attended high school in Sierra Vista where he applied his talents by creating his own textbooks. His first book, Ray’s Health, enabled him to test out of a required class by demonstrating to his teachers that he could comprehend the subject matter.
Ray also participated in a science fair as part of his biology class. Equipped with food coloring, milk, detergent and a love of Marvel Comics’ Spider-man, he created a series of in-vitro specimens (sandwiched between sheets of glass) to depict the DNA process. His presentation included 15 genetic spiders, information sheets on each, and a book about the process. As a result, Ray was awarded, both a certificate from the Society of In-Vitro Biology, as well as an Award of Merit for his presentation.
Ray’s ability to communicate complex ideas through his artwork continues to bring him success. A week after graduating, the Sierra Vista Rotary Club presented him with a scholarship to enroll in art classes at Cochise College where he was able to work with instructor Al Kogel to experiment with different media and expand his artistic horizons.
“I try to offer suggestions about materials that would be helpful to him,” Kogel told the Sierra Vista Herald. “Ray is a very talented artist. He enjoys using texturing materials and [he’s] very good at incorporating them into his work.”
“Ray does very interesting work, falling under the heading of Outsider Art,” Kogel continued. Outsider Art is a term defined by Raw Vision Magazine that describes the work created by artists, such as Grandma Moses, who are without formal fine arts training and “who depict largely realistic scenes, often in skilled detail, with people, animals, and other aspects of the observed work, sometimes combined with fantasy images.”
In further support of his talents and interests, Ray’s DDD Support Coordinator, John Paez, consulted with the DES Rehabilitation Services Administration to explore a possible microbusiness in art and other options to publicize Ray’s work. John also made arrangements with Centpatico Integrated Care to provide entrepreneurial coaching services.
But the best resource at Ray’s disposal is his mother. “Ray’s mother, Diane Thomas, has been instrumental in coordinating commissioned art work for schools,” said John. “She helped Ray develop a line of greeting cards, hold a one-man art exhibit at the Sierra Vista Public Library, and helped arrange commissioned work at the Lights Out Family Fun Center.”
In addition to leveraging his artistic talents as a career path, Ray’s art improves his life skills. John notes, “As a result of his art related activities, Ray has developed more social skills, self-confidence, overcame various fears and is appreciating others artistic abilities as well.”
“Ray has different projects in progress, such as his alien art series and a new line of greeting cards,” said Diane Thomas. “Mr. Kogel would love to have him come back to college in the fall. What the next step is after that, I have no idea.”
Like the rest of us, Ray’s life journey is not fully mapped out, but there’s no doubt he will continue his odyssey in Outsider Art.
The Department of Economic Security (DES) Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) provides services to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. A diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) commonly includes symptoms of impaired social interaction and difficulty in communicating. To be eligible for services, individuals must be diagnosed with one or more of the following diagnoses: ASD, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, cognitive/intellectual disability.
For more information on DDD services, please visit the Developmental Disabilities website.
If you are interested in Vocational Rehabilitation Services, please visit the Voc Rehab page.
By Lyn Riley