Page last updated at 11:13 GMT, Thursday, 17 June 2004 12:13 UK

Asperger's artist opens first show

Geoff Adams-Spink
BBC News Online disability affairs reporter

Artist, David Downes, who has Asperger Syndrome - a form of autism - has just opened an exhibition of his urban, architectural and rural landscapes at a London gallery.

Photo of David Downes next to one of his paintings
Downes is inspired by urban architecture

Downes has a rare ability to look at a landscape at ground level and then to produce a bird's eye perspective.

His work is characterised by intense detail, flashes of humour and dramatic skies.

"I've been drawing and painting all my life," he told BBC News Online.

The show - featuring more than 40 paintings - is at the Coningsby Gallery in central London until 19 June.

One of his favourites is an aerial view of Epping Forest and the A11 road leading into London.

"I like the wilderness of the forest next to the city," he said.

"I've got a lot of memories of this area - some happy, some sad - especially of Walthamstow.

Downes says that his preferred medium is pens and pencils but he sometimes likes to work with watercolours and oils as well.

One sweeping landscape from the Lake District was done entirely from memory.

"My mate went back there and confirmed that all the details were correct," he said with pride.

Photo of Epping Forest painting
The painting of Epping Forest juxtaposes urban and rural

In 2000 he was commissioned by the BBC to produce a series of paintings of the Corporation's finest architecture.

"My favourite has to be Broadcasting House."

Rich tapestry

Another impressive work is Springfield Park in east London.

The landscape is dotted with reminders of the reality of modern urban life.

In the bandstand, for example, someone lies sprawled in a chemically-induced coma.

Elsewhere, a cricket match is being played, people in traditional Jewish dress are walking around, two other people are engaged in an intimate act and there is a burnt out car.

"It's an interesting, weird, messed up place," he said.

A view of the Suffolk coast with the Sizewell B nuclear power station on the horizon evokes childhood memories for Downes.

"There used to be old windmills along that coast and they used to scare the hell out of me," he said.

"But the power station was reassuring - it was powerful while the windmills symbolised death and the past".

Power of nature

Most of the skies that Downes paints are turbulent and dramatic which he attributes to his love of the weather.

"I've always been interested in the force and power of nature and I try to put this into my paintings now."

He has been supported in his work by Prospects, the National Autistic Society's employment service for people with autistic spectrum disorder.

In addition to his drawing and painting he also has a part-time job in a art shop.

He says that his next subject will probably be industrial Essex - places like Southend, Tilbury and Docklands.

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