December 19, 2013 in Washington Voices

Barker student creates art through sound, rhythm

By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photoBuy this photo

Barker High School art instructor Jennifer Compau taps out a beat for her student, Jonathan Finck, as they view his artwork hanging in the school’s hallway on Dec. 11. Finck is a special-needs student in the School to Life program at Barker. At left, Barker students Makayla Michael and Max Sloan assist Finck in his art creations.
(Full-size photo)

In the halls of Barker High School, splashes and swirls of color combine with glitter on pieces of canvas or old hand-held chalk boards – all part of an exhibit of art created by one student.

“It’s very legitimate, beautiful art,” said art teacher Jennifer Compau. She describes the work in the exhibit as abstract expressionism.

The artist is Jonathan Finck, 19, who is autistic.

Compau said Finck doesn’t have a lot of fine motor skills, and he’s not verbal, but what he does have is an appreciation for sounds and rhythms. If one of his schoolmates clicks her fingernails near his ear, he pays attention. He makes sounds and rhythms by knocking on the walls.

“There is like a little percussionist in there,” Compau said.

Compau decided to turn loose that percussionist in art class. With help from student mentors, Finck swirls the acrylic paint and glitter on the surface he is working. He likes to shake the bottles of glitter while he holds them next to his ear.

Student mentor Max Sloan, a junior, said not only are the pieces he makes incredible, but the surface of the table around the piece is, too.

“The tables that he’s done are really cool,” Sloan said.

Finck is one of the students in Lynne Kovacich’s School to Life program for special-needs students who have already graduated. Students from 18 to 21 come to Barker to learn work and life skills.

“He’s very aware and he’s very able,” Kovacich said. She also said the work he has been doing in Compau’s art class has opened up a new world for him.

Kovacich recommended he take Compau’s art class when he started at the school in September, and he gets art on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Compau said other students have requested to work with Finck as he paints. Makayla Michael, a junior, said when she is done working with him, it takes awhile to get the paint and glitter out of her hair and clothing, but it’s been worth it.

“Working with Jon is one of the most amazing experiences of my entire life,” Michael said. She said thanks to this experience, she wants to either teach art or kids with special needs.

She said she was a little nervous the first time she worked with him, but she decided to go for it.

“I had the biggest smile on my face,” she said. “He makes rhythm while he paints.”

“He knows how to blend colors,” Sloan said.

Sloan said he enjoys watching Finck create his art.

“He’ll analyze it,” Sloan said. “He knows what he wants to do with it and he looks away while he does everything.” He lets everyone know when he’s done with a piece.

“The thing that’s happened is the friendships and the connections,” Compau said.

Compau said he looks like a conductor while he paints. He finds the sound his hands make and enjoys the feel of the paint on his hands. She wants to find an old Celtic drum and ask him to paint that in the future.

“He likes that musical engagement,” she said.

The pieces will hang on the walls of Barker until Friday, when the school lets out for winter break. In January and February the paintings will decorate the board room at the Central Valley School District office.

Compau said she would love to find a venue in the community where more people can see his art, which she said is good enough to hang in any gallery.

“It doesn’t matter that he’s abled or disabled,” she said.

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