On February 2nd, online news site IOL (Independent Online) came out with a fascinating article profiling South African artist Shane Dennis. Shane, who lives in Johannesburg, was diagnosed with ASD at age 3. His parents chart a progression through art and media not dissimilar from Owen’s in many ways. His father Ronald Dennis tells reporter Nontando Mposo that Shane was only 5 “when he started to write words. He always watched movies with English subtitles and started to associate the sounds with the spelling. The first thing he wrote in class was ‘Walt Disney Pictures present Finding Nemo’, in exactly the same font as in the movie on a blackboard. He wrote ‘EXIT’ with chalk on the carpet.” Not unlike Owen, Shane used his favorite movies to teach himself how to read and write.
Growing up, Shane was always drawn to books, movies and shows that centered around zoo and circus animals – especially elephants. As with so many individuals with autism, this affinity soon blossomed into a knack for creating unique artwork: “After that he started to write words and make basic drawings of animals, his first animal drawing was of an elephant. It never stopped,” says his father. As his art became more and more refined, the outside world started to take notice. Susan Slee-de Villiers of Maneki, a functional art and gifts range, noticed one of Shane’s designs on a placemat and approached the Dennis family about creating a brand for Shane’s work – enabling Shane to make a living for himself while also raising awareness about autism.
Says Slee-de Villiers: “His drawings are so perfect and bold, he is an absolute genius. The way he draws the animals showcases his sense of humour…His technique of drawing neat and prominent lines makes it easy for us to reproduce the images.” He now also draws trains – stemming from a love of Thomas the Tank (a popular affinity shared by many on the autism spectrum). A range of goods under the brand name “aspeciali” features Shane’s exceptional artwork.