In Search Of Home

When 20 artists with developmental disabilities began talking about the idea of home and community, they never expected to land their first major exhibition. But the Skirball Cultural Center is now featuring their work in an exhibit called “In Search of Home.”

For the next two months, the Skirball’s Ruby Gallery will display colorful paintings and pastels, papier-mâché puppets, ceramics, and a towering quilt called “Animal House” — all artistically depicting feelings about home that these artists cannot always communicate verbally. For visitors, the exhibit offers a chance to appreciate the contributions of a community that is not always understood or valued.

The artists are employed by Inside Out Productions, a studio in Culver City that cultivates artistic talent while teaching job skills and the basics of running a production-art studio. It grew out of L.A. Goal, a nonprofit group providing counseling, employment training, fitness and social skills for more than 100 adults with autism, mental retardation, learning disabilities and neurological challenges such as epilepsy and cerebral palsy.

Home takes many forms for this group of adults: group homes, with parents, alone, or with partners.

Group housing, in particular, means that many of the artists don’t choose even the basics of home: whom they live with, curfew hours, what’s for dinner. Most don’t even have keys to their homes. But, artistic director Susan Wilder said, in preparing for this exhibit, the artists got the chance to discuss and depict their lives.

With its sophisticated themes and bold colors, the artwork is already attracting a lot of attention, according to curator Tal Gozani. “People notice the [exhibit’s] vibrancy and wonderful use of color,” she said.

Among the most colorful are two pieces by Elisabeth Cooper, “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie” and “The Bath,” which she said were inspired by French painter Pierre Bonnard’s interior scenes of domestic life.

Cooper’s neurological condition makes it difficult for her to communicate verbally, but art gives her a venue for self-expression. “Art makes me feel joyful and happy,” she wrote in an e-mail interview. “I enjoy drawing with my friends on Mondays [when she works in the studio]. I know L.A. Goal and Inside Out Productions have helped me and everyone else to grow inside and out as an artist and a person!”

Her father, Saul Cooper, said, “Elisabeth’s painting is a substitute for words. She has learned through L.A. Goal to break through her terrible verbal problem and express herself. I don’t know how you can get, in words, some terribly penetrating and meaningful analysis of what’s behind the pictures. We can just be grateful and thrilled to see what glorious life she has: bold and free, full of vivid color and urgent communication.”

“In Search of Home” runs through July 8 in the Ruby Gallery at the Skirball Cultural Center and is free to the public. For more information, call (310) 440-4502, or visit L.A. Goal is at (310) 838-5274, or visit