Margaux Wosk had the lights turned off in her West Cloverdale apartment, but the vivid paintings on her coffee table needed no extra illumination.
The swirling colours of purple, orange, pink and blue formed themselves into houses, cats and geometric shapes. Wosk, 29, spread them out on the table, giving a brief explanation of each as she put them down.
There had to be at least three dozen pieces layered on top of each other, but that wasn’t close to all the ones the artist had.
“I probably have a few hundred pieces of art,” she explained. “Some’s in storage, some’s here.”
Some were sitting on her kitchen counter, waiting to be shipped to people who had purchased them online. But although painting is a business venture for Wosk, it’s also something more.
In August of last year, Wosk was diagnosed as autistic. The revelation was freeing.
“It was redeeming,” she said. “It kind of gave me what I needed to know in terms of why I had such challenging upbringing, and why I never fit in with anybody.”
“When I found out, it’s like everything made sense for me,” she continued. “That’s why I’m so weird. That’s why I have some social problems. That’s why my energy level is low. It was kind of like an epiphany.
“It was almost like the clouds were parting and the sun was coming through.”
Throughout her life, Wosk has had light and texture sensitivities. In brightly lit areas, she explained, it can feel like she is a deer in the headlights (which is why she only had natural light illuminating her home when the Cloverdale Reporter visited). With texture, the feeling of clothes and certain foods can be overwhelming; as a kid, her family thought she was a picky eater, “but in reality it was just the texture of things and my brain not being able to process that,” she said.
Now, Wosk is using her identity as an autistic person and an artist to help educate people about autism.
“I think I’ve joined the two together,” she explained. “My art gives people a visual representation of what I’m capable of. But then it also opens up the conversation to say, okay, I’m autistic. What do you want to know?”
On Aug. 18, Wosk had an opportunity to put that idea into action with a booth at the 2018 Arts Alive event in Langley. At her table she had a display of her paintings, as well as some signs telling people about her autism.
“When people came by, they could see that it’s not something I’m ashamed of,” she said about her display.
“If I couldn’t talk to somebody, I wanted to get this message across. I thought it was important. People online actually said I was being too negative. And I said to myself, ‘Well, they’re seeing my art. They’ve got to see other parts of me too.’”
The goal, Wosk explained, is to help people become more educated about autism — that’s why she spends much of her online time being an activist for autistic people and protesting against organizations like Autism Speaks, which Wosk said spend more time looking to eliminate autism rather than support autistic people.
“We have so much to offer, and if I can get people connected with me … then maybe there won’t be this negative stigma attached,” she said.
Of course, it isn’t easy. Online bullies are commonplace in the comment section on Wosk’s website. But there are some successes.
| A selection of Margaux Wosk's paintings, made on canvas board with paint pens.
“I had this on my table,” Wosk said about the information sheet she had set up at Arts Alive, “and you know what, it was stopping a lot of people. They would see that and they would almost walk by my table, then they would stand, read, point to their friend and tell them to read this.”
Although her stint at Arts Alive was an overall success, for both autism education and arts sales, Wosk isn’t sure she’d do it again.
“It was a long day of standing and a lot of interacting with people,” she said. “For me, it can get kind of emotionally exhausting. Even thought I enjoyed it, I had to take a little bit of time afterwards to decompress.”
That doesn’t mean Wosk is giving up on her activism. On her website navigatingjourney.com, Wosk creates videos and blog posts talking about autism. And in October, she’ll be one of the speakers in a British webinar for autistic people in different business ventures.
“I’m really excited for that opportunity,” she said. “I would be really cool one day if I could do a TedX talk or something. I would be so into that.
“I actually really enjoy public speaking, even though a lot of other autistic people don’t,” she continued. “It’s kind of like, I have nothing to hide. I’m pretty confident in that regard, and if I can impart some of my wisdom and knowledge on others I will.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said that Wosk had been diagnosed with autism. This did not accurately reflect her preference to be described as an autistic person, rather than a person with autism. We have changed the copy to better reflect those wishes.