A catastrophic brain injury from a skateboarding accident eight years ago left Lawson Smith using a wheelchair, without speech and reliant on others for his basic needs to be met.
But the 27-year-old has found a way to express his passion for marine biology and conservation - which he had been studying at university at the time of the accident - in an equally meaningful form.
Mr Smith, from Bunbury in Western Australia, fell from a skateboard while not wearing a helmet in 2012, and an aged care home was offered to his family as his best long-term treatment option.
His mum, Sara Davies, said there was no way her son would be living out his days in a facility and decided to move him back to the family home in June 2013.
Since then, Mr Smith, who has a twin brother, has made subtle but incredible strides in his rehabilitation, which have become increasingly noticeable since he first picked up a paint brush in late 2013.
“He did these gorgeous oval shapes. It spun me out at the time because it was like, ‘is that a skateboard? Is that a head? Is that a brain?’,” Ms Davies told Yahoo News Australia.
They then began considering artwork as not only an exciting way for Mr Smith to express himself, but a project that allowed him - for the first time in several years - to contribute to the world around him.
For the subsequent 12 months, Mr Smith developed a body of work with the aid of a helper once a week - slowly building on his repertoire of both art and neurological ability.
“Because we treated it as part of his rehabilitation and we had that dedicated time each week, you could see and build on his progress,” Ms Davies said.
Mr Smith worked on multiple canvas paintings during each two-hour session, with each piece taking up to a month to create due to the paint layering process.
It was decided his artwork was too special to be kept among close family and friends, and a website offering them for sale as prints was launched this year.
“We were going to launch in March but it didn’t feel right [due to the coronavirus pandemic]. But then we thought his work is so colourful and uplifting, so let’s run with it anyway,” Ms Davies said.
‘His world is getting bigger’
Evident in small examples of time spent in the art studio, Ms Smith said the momentous influence of her son’s artistic venture had been abundantly clear.
“He never used to know which house he was living in, even when he was in the wheelchair, he would sail past the driveway.
“But by going to the studio over time, his world was getting bigger and he got to a point where he knew where he was going,” she said.
“With the painting process itself, he initially wouldn’t have known how to choose colours, so him looking at colour and choosing colours was a big step up.
“He went from doing oval shapes to diagonal crosses across the canvas. Then he learned to look at the whole canvas, and apply paint to the whole surface of it.”
Passion for environment displayed on canvas
Mr Smith has “a lot of fun doing it too”, his mum said, and enjoys having music playing when he’s painting.
“I’m not sure he would have had the opportunity had he been institutionalised. That’s something that worries me especially for young people after a brain injury,” Ms Davies said.
She said one of the most obvious signs his art was connected to his long-time passion for the environment was when it came time to title his pieces.
“It dawned on me that ‘hey this is relating to what he was into’. It became really obvious that it was about the ocean. As a poor student on Youth Allowance, he was donating to Sea Shepherd and Australian Marine Conservation.”
Ms Davies said painting had offered an “added dimension” to her son’s life, and the original copies of his colourful pieces now featured on the walls of their family home.
“He came home not being able to move at all, and now he’s able to choose colours and print paint onto canvas, and create these uplifting and colourful designs.
“His personality is and always was very upbeat and joyful, and I think that comes across in his work. He’s the one that will laugh first, he loves everyone and he’s so good natured.”
Print copies of his artwork, also available on stubby holders, can be purchased from his website Lawson Smith Art, with his team hopeful to collaborate with other creatives on future projects.
Ms Davies said it was “really great” he was still doing something relating to the environment, having been committed prior to the accident to helping “save the planet”.
Ten per cent of profits made from his prints will be donated to marine conservation.
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