Artist with autism exhibits vibrant London scenes at Lido Cafe
- Credit: Oliver Chan
Swiss Cottage artist Oliver Chan says painting his visually arresting north London scenes makes him feel calm.
From Hampstead's Isokon flats to The Washington pub, he works from photographs painting scenes with acrylic on canvas paper.
"If I photograph it and like it, I paint it," says Oliver who is on the autism spectrum. "Although during lockdown when I couldn't go out, I made a collage and painted from that."
The 34-year-old struggled in early life with anxiety and language delay.
"I didn't speak when I was younger. I only had a few words at four and struggled to sit still for long. My mum Caroline was keen to encourage art as an alternative to my obsessions, then one day when I was 11 she gave me a picture of a hedgehog to draw, I copied it and it actually looked like a hedgehog."
While attending the autism unit at Oak Lodge in East Finchley, Oliver started spending a day a week taking art lessons at King Alfred's in Golders Greens.
"It was a unique opportunity. I could integrate with the mainstream students. Painting is a calming therapy."
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After studying Art and Design at Westminster Kingsway, he took a fine arts foundation at Byam Shaw in Archway, then a diploma in fine art at The Art Academy.
Alongside his art, the keen baker worked, made cakes and exhibited at the family cafe – Oliver's Village Cafe in Belsize Lane – which his parents bought in 2008. He has now moved from painting in his bedroom to a studio at Vivid Studios in Manor House and his latest works are on show at the Parliament Hill Fields Lido cafe.
Cafe owner Emma Fernandez said: "We had a very successful opening night. Oliver's paintings look very beautiful on the walls and his story is really amazing."
And although crowds make him anxious, he loved the event: "It was fantastic, the best show ever".
Not only does Oliver volunteer at Hail, a charity which helps people with disabilities to travel independently on London transport, but post pandemic, he started a Happy To Talk project to tackle loneliness especially for the elderly. He put signs on benches in Chalcot square, Hampstead Heath and Belsize Village to "encourage people to talk to strangers if they are lonely or having a bad day."
Future plans include paintings highlighting climate change and neighbourhood traffic.
"Traffic jams make me fed up. You go in the car and the lights go green then just a few seconds later they go red. I want to raise awareness about pollution levels and encourage people to walk and cycle."
Oliver Chan's paintings are on display at Parliament Hill Fields Lido Cafe until December 13.