“It’s not what I can’t do, it’s what I can do that makes a difference.” Grant’s motto for life is exemplified not only in his masterful works of art, but also in his community work and advocacy for special needs kids.
Interviewed by Sara G. Stephens
HFM: What is Eco-art?
GM: Ecological art is an art genre that uses recycled resources to help improve our relationship with the earth. My Eco-art means using recycled materials, such as wall paper, calendars, posters, business cards, puzzles and more to create Eco-art masterpieces from recycled resources.
HFM: You are an Eco-artist living with autism. In fact, your medium of choice is cut or torn pieces of recycled paper, which stems from a form of therapy for your autism. Can you tell us about that connection?
GM: The connection between my autism and tearing/cutting paper started as an obsession with paper. Using paper for drawing, painting, coloring and tearing/cutting became the therapy to help soothe my anxieties and redirected my behavior into a positive outcome – art!
HFM: You call your pieces “Coolages.” Describe how you go about creating them. What inspires you or draws you to a certain subject?
GM: “COOLAGE” because I use cool colors, cool shapes, and cool textures. First, I am inspired by friends, family, things I see every day, events, and holidays. Second, I collect recycled materials based on color and texture. I don’t use any paint, just paper. Third, I sketch the subject onto the canvas and glue on the colors using the recycled paper and my imagination.
HFM: Are you inspired by any other artists?
GM: I can honestly say because my art is different, like me, I have not been inspired by any one artist in particular. I have created my own style, just like others before me. However, I do admire and I am inspired by artists who have never given up on their passion or dreams.
It is a rough business to make a living in. That’s why some [artists] are called “starving artists.” Just because I have autism doesn’t mean I have a set-back–just the opposite. Autism became my channel to my masterpieces.
I am blessed to be walking in the footsteps of great artists. People are calling me the Eco-Impressionist of our time. What perfect timing as a Millennial, and what an honor.
HFM: You also sell prints and calendars of your work via your website, www.grantsecoart.com. Do you ever sell your original pieces?
GM: Yes, I sell some of my Eco-originals. Because one complex art piece can take me a month or more to make, by selling prints I am able to create revenue to pay my bills.
We try to hang on to as many originals as possible, [but also] sell some to make a living. I have been told my art will be in museums someday for hundreds to see. What an honor that will be!
So my mom–and her creative wisdom–started making prints for friends, and one thing led to another, and then to a business.
HFM: You help the planet by creating art from recycled paper, and you also help people by bringing visual art exhibits and demonstrations into schools and organizations. When and why did you decide to use your talent to help other people?
GM: When I was 15 years old I won the 2011 Austin Rodeo Grand Champion for Eco-art. Teachers heard about me and starting following me on my website. Westview School, a school for autism, invited me to speak and teach Eco-art one day, all day. I was Art Teacher for the Day…what an honor to teach at the same school that helped me find my talent!
I was taught that helping others is good for your spirit and soul, meaning it balances me, even if for a short while….it feels good.
I have since been traveling around Houston and Texas bringing my art exhibit, recycled materials and interactive program to teach kids and adults the importance of environmental responsibility and the beauty in collecting recycled trash.
HFM: I understand you’ve raised quite a bit of money for these schools and organizations. Can you tell us how much?
GM: Yes, I have raised over $100,000 for great causes: special needs camps, hearing aids, wheelchairs, horse therapy classes, physical therapy, and scholarships for students.
HFM: It’s been said that your work and your outreach has inspired others to believe in themselves, even if their behavior seems “out-of-sync” to others. How does this make you feel?
GM: I feel great! [It feels good to know] that my own “quirky” behavior and obsessions have inspired individuals and families to look and reach deeper into the questions “Why do they do that?” and “How can we help him/her find a constructive way to use their obsession?”
Remember, we are happy doing what we do over and over, as long it doesn’t hurt us or anyone else.
HFM: In your logo, I noticed a small puzzle piece placed within the “O” of “EcoArt.” I assume the puzzle piece reflects that you sometimes use puzzle pieces in your art, but I wonder if it doesn’t have another meaning?
GM: That is correct. I love using puzzles in my artwork. I patiently peel the color print off each puzzle piece in the box and glue it to my canvas. I am the only known artist to do this and I teach others to recycle puzzles and do the same. Thousands of puzzles are thrown away because one piece is missing. If you don’t recycle them, call me–I will take them off your hands!
I use puzzles in my artwork because, early in my career, I was asked to create a butterfly, which was at the time the most recognized symbol for autism. Then the puzzle piece started to gain recognition as the new symbol for autism. It stood for the “puzzling condition” or “help solve the puzzle of autism.” So, I combined the two (butterfly and puzzles) when I created the “Puzzle Butterfly,” and I used the recycled puzzle colors to create the earth inside the butterfly’s shape.
HFM: You have received numerous awards and recognition for both your art and your volunteering and contributions. Of which award are you most proud?
GM: I am extremely proud of my very 1st major award, the 2011 Austin Rodeo Grand Champion for Eco-art, because it was a piece I created to honor the horse I rode for autism therapy. Horse riding made a big difference in how I felt. It helped me control my feelings and sensory issues. Plus, I noticed my artwork style and skills got better and faster.
I will never forget my friend, Dhan Zhoa, the Appaloosa.
HFM: I see your mom as extraordinary in her support. How has she helped you become the man you are today?
GM: My mom is not a quitter, she works smart, and she’s very creative. She saw a talent in me when others gave up on me. I learned from her that “Fear is not an option.”
“We will rise above the fear together,” she always says to me.
HFM: What advice do you have for parents of kids with autism?
GM: The sooner you accept the condition, the sooner you will find [your child’s] genius. I found out when I was eight. Mom didn’t make it wrong; she made it manageable and easier to live with.
After all, wouldn’t you tell your kids if they had diabetes? Of course you would, so they could manage it and live easier lives. Knowledge is power!
HFM: It must be extremely rewarding to know that you leave a legacy with your beautiful art. I think you also leave a legacy of wisdom. If you could change the world with a message about taking care of our planet, what would that message be?
GM: “You’re a product of your environment….What does your environment look like?”
HFM: If you could change the world with a message about people with special needs, what would that message be?
GM: “It’s not what we can’t do …..It what we can do that makes the difference.”
HFM: If you could change the world with a message about believing in yourself, what would that message be?
GM: “Don’t walk the journey alone. A supportive team will always carry you to the finish line.”
That’s what I have learned so far.