Emy Spinks is a talented artist on show around the world. What makes her remarkable is that she has profound autism. Catherine Scott meets her.
Artist Emy Spinks has her work on show in Milan, New York, Greece and now York. something many artists can only dream about. She has already sold £1,000 of her pictures and has been commissioned to do many more.
What makes the 22-year-old from Selby even more remarkable is that she has profound autism and has never spoken a sentence. Her drawing is her way of expressing herself.
When she finishes her incredibly accurate and detailed cartoon of Mickey and Minnie Mouse she holds it up with a massive beam which lights up the room. She has added a chocolate brownie and a cup of tea, the things she’d eaten while drawing.
“Em was two years old when she was diagnosed with profound autism,” says her mum Andrea, who had worked with children with autism after university.
“She has had many years of being terrified by her own environment and her hyper-sensory issues meant even a trip to the shops was an extremely painful experience in her younger days.”
Determined to try to help her daughter, Andrea tried everything and, despite how challenging going out could be, she was determined she was not going to keep Amy at home.
“Home-based therapies and a succession of good schools helped Em to deal with the unpredictabilities of everyday life, but art and music have been her lifeline,” says Andrea who also has a son, Daniel, who is a year older than Emy.
“Emy began to doodle at eight and since then has become a prolific artist and animator.”
Emy’s grandfather, Mike Williams, is a cartoonist who has had a long career in cartooning and regularly featured in Punch – where he was art editor for a period – Private Eye, The Spectator and The Oldie, as well as newspapers and advertising campaigns.
Emy’s mum has a degree in animation. Emy is influenced by the work of her grandad, illustrator Tony Ross, Disney and old ‘70s cartoons and animated series.
“My dad has cleared space in his studio for Emy and they work together, which is lovely, although one day she took down an award he had received for a cartoon and replaced it with her own work. She has such a great sense of humour and is really, really good fun.”
Emy’s work has been produced as backdrops to ballets, bed linens, regional library cards, designs for cards, key rings and wrapping papers.
Although Emy will never live independently, Andrea is determined that she will have a fulfilling life and so she came up with the idea of Em People.
“I wanted somewhere where Em and other artists with learning difficulties could use as an art studio, but where they could also sell their work. There is very little out there for people once they are 18 and have left full-time education.”
She contacted the Blueberry Academy based in York and asked whether if the Spinkses provided the premises, would Blueberry provide the staff?
The Blueberry Academy aims to provide a quality service that meets the needs and aspirations of its learners, providers, employers and the local community. The academy currently supports over 50 individuals in York and North Yorkshire to grow and develop.
“We opened in September 2016,” says Andrea. Three members of staff work with five students aged 18 to 15.
“We want people to buy their work because it is good,not out of sympathy because they have autism,” says Andrea.
Emy’s tutor, Samuel Potts , came up with the idea of having an exhibition at City Screen York where he also has an exhibition of his own work.
“It seemed the perfect space to show not only Emy’s work but that of another member of Em People, Emily Child,” says Samuel. “I love working with Emy. She draws because she loves it, not because someone is telling her to do it in a certain way or because she knows she is trying to sell her work. It is the purest form of art. It has really helped me unlock my artist’s block and get back to the essence of why I love art.”
Emily Child, 19, who is also autistic, says attending Em People has really helped her.
“It has given me so much more confidence,” says Emily.
And for Andrea the power of Em People is much more than just about the artists’ work.
“I went along the other day and just watched them. They were all really interacting and helping each other out. There has been such a change in our students since they started with us.
“People say that people with autism have no empathy, my experience is that is far from the truth. If anything Em has too much empathy, she gets upset if she hears a baby cry.”
Andrea says the hardest part of her life is still people’s reactions to Emy.
“I refuse to keep her at home all the time which means we do get cruel comments.”
However, in their home village of Cawood, Emy is well-known.
“The people of the village of Cawood have watched and supported Em growing from a very distressed child into an accomplished young woman, artist and a valued member of our close-knit community,” says Andrea. “She draws many cards and posts them round the village and everybody puts them up in their windows facing outwards so that they can be admired by all
“This is such a wonderful show of support. We are constantly reminded that Em is valued. She is one of the happiest and most adorable and funny people I’ve ever known
“All I want is for people to see what Em and other people with autism can achieve, rather than what they can’t.”
Try to See it My Way – an exhibition of the work of Emy Spinks and Emily Child is in the foyer at the City Screen York until the end of September
As well as seeing the artists’ work it is available to purchase.
Samuel Potts’ exhibition can be seen upstairs at City Screen until the end of the month.
(For more on Samuel visit Facebook: sampottsportraits)
For more information on Em People visit www.em-people.co.uk or Facebook EmPeople
Blueberry Academy in York, Selby and Scarborough provides specialist support for adults with learning difficulties. The main aims of the academy is to promote employability and independence.