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Evan Kennedy thrives through creative expression

Art helps Evan Kennedy escape the confines of a neuro-muscular disorder


TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Michelle Kennedy holds hands with Evan Kennedy, her 15-year-old son, on the fourth floor of the Beaverton Building. Evan Kennedy, who has an undiagnosed neuromuscular disorder, is showcasing his acrylic paintings this month at The Beaverton Building.Evan Kennedy is trapped in a body that often ignores his brain’s commands, making it difficult for him to communicate with the outside world.

But his fingers have found a way.

Dipped in paint and caressed across canvass, Kennedy’s fingertips make art that nearly explodes in colors so vibrant and patterns so alive they can have a mood-altering impact. Purple irises bloom in serene abstraction. Blasts of red seem to exude heat.

Kennedy, who turned 15 this month and attends Beaverton High School, started painting as a toddler, when as much paint found his face as it did paper and canvass.

“His choice of color and being able to mix colors in a way that is really pleasing and interesting was there from the start,” said his mother, Michelle Kennedy. “Even people who aren’t partial to abstract art tell me they like his paintings because they like the colors.”

“I think there’s a lot of self-realization,” added his father, David Kennedy.

Evan Kennedy’s skills have grown with him, and his work now hangs in homes and offices of family and friends across the country. But only recently have his talents been discovered more widely.

This week he is wrapping up his most public showing to date on the walls of the fourth floor of Beaverton City Hall, where many of the artworks have sold to city staffers as well as others.

“We’ve had a lot of interest with the show,” said Michelle Kennedy, who also does consulting work for the city.

Next up, Kennedy will be a featured artist this June at Liberty Bay Gallery in Poulsbo, Wash., and soon he will get some help launching a website to display his work to a far wider audience.

While art gives young Kennedy an outlet for creative expression that his own voice can’t yet muster — he is in the early stages of learning to master an assistive communications device called a DynaVox — his creativity also could help him conquer some of the physical challenges that keep him confined to a wheelchair.

Evan has a neuro-muscular disorder that has never been fully diagnosed but whose symptoms put him under the broader umbrella of quadriplegic cerebral palsy.TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Fifteen-year-old Evan Kennedy looks at his acrylic paintings being showcased on the fourth floor of The Beaverton Building.

“The signal isn’t getting through in a consistent manner, and we don’t know why,” his mother said.

The Kennedys are saving the sales from his artwork — many selling for $150 and up — to help pay the portion of expensive therapies that their insurance won’t cover.

Evan Kennedy has been in physical and occupational therapy his entire life, but this summer he will undergo the most intensive physical therapy to date at Neuroworx near Salt Lake City. The program there has restored some motor function for other patients with similar symptoms, including one of Evan Kennedy’s peers, the Kennedys said.

“We’re highly optimistic that there can be a benefit,” David Kennedy said.

The Kennedys are hopeful that art sales of originals and replicas can help them pay for additional sessions at Neuroworx. They also have a campaign called “Give Evan a Chance to Walk” on the crowd-funding website GoFundMe.

Meanwhile, Evan Kennedy keeps on painting, which he does while strapped into a “stander” device that holds him upright.

One of his own favorite paintings, “Liquid Sunshine,” hangs in Kennedy’s bedroom, but most of his artwork goes to people as gifts and, more and more, commissioned works.

“He has a huge body of work, but I own almost none of the originals,” Michelle Kennedy said. “It gives him a lot of pleasure (to have his paintings) go to someone who’s going to enjoy it.”

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