"Art of My Soul," a collection of paintings by a man born with cerebral palsy, is the first art exhibit at the Yellow Elephant Gallery in Kankakee to overtake all four walls of the space.
Bourbonnais resident and Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School graduate Sean Rooney always has been driven by creativity and imagination, but now he can finally call himself a true artist.
Rooney, 27, has dedicated much of his life to creative endeavors, stating that doing so helps him to manage anxiety.
He’s already seen success as a writer, having published two children’s books. His first book, “Paddy’s First Day at Hilltop School,” was published in 2009, and its sequel “Paddy’s Recess Adventures at Hilltop School,” was published earlier this year.
After creating the character of Paddy, a young muskrat who shares Rooney’s diagnosis of CP, “I ran out of ideas for writing,” Rooney joked. So then he switched his focus to art.
About four years ago, he met Megan Campbell, art therapist and adjunct professor at Olivet Nazarene University. They have been working together ever since.
“We just hang out as friends and make art,” Campbell said.
Though Rooney’s cerebral palsy affects his muscle development and mobility, he uses a wheelchair to create the art featured in the gallery’s fourth exhibition.
To assist in the art process, Campbell lays out a large canvas on the Rooney family’s garage floor. Rooney then rolls over the canvas in an old wheelchair with paintbrushes attached to it to create works such as “Ballet Slippers,” “Sea Spill” and “Metallic Skull Band.”
Rooney is excited to see his work at the gallery in his first art exhibition, which is a major step in his professional career.
“This is very significant because not a lot of people, I think, would expect this kind of [art] coming from someone like me,” Rooney said.
Cerebral palsy is a common diagnosis, affecting more than 200,000 people in the U.S. each year. The congenital disorder impacts movement, muscle tone and posture, but Rooney’s creativity remains vibrant.
“I feel like Sean’s emotions come through in these works,” said Yellow Elephant Gallery owner Elisabeth Dunbar. “Before I ever talked to him or got to know him, I felt like I knew him through the art.”
“I think people will see the emotion and the genuine creative expression in the art,” she added. “I think that makes it special.”
Dunbar also admires the depth displayed in many of Rooney’s pieces.
The collection of pieces titled, “Migrating Earth,” for example, all began on one large canvas which was then cut down into pieces. Rooney elected to add more layers of color to certain pieces, while keeping others lighter.
“With every painting, you can just see little wheels and tread running through it,” added Rooney’s mother, Holly.
“There’s movement in those layers,” Dunbar agreed.
Though Rooney’s works can be described as abstract at their most basic level, viewers shouldn’t dismiss the depth, emotion and story within their creation.
“I don’t see this as true abstract art because there’s themes,” Dunbar said.
“There’s a story behind each piece,” added Holly.
“With an author, there’s always a story!” Campbell joked.
Since everyone loves a good story, Rooney’s works are sure to boast a broad appeal.
“I think [Rooney’s art] will have very broad acceptance across all styles,” Dunbar said. “Because he uses a different pallet on each piece, … I think there’s something here for everybody, even people who wouldn’t typically be attracted to abstract art.”
Every wall in the gallery is filled, so visitors can’t even look in any one direction without witnessing Rooney’s storytelling. Dunbar received so much art from Rooney that extra pieces sit in easels inside the gallery.
Rooney’s art will be on display until Nov. 3 at the Yellow Elephant Gallery, Suite 107 inside The Majestic at 150 N. Schuyler Ave., in Kankakee. Visitors can stop by anytime during the gallery’s open hours from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Rooney’s books, along with all artwork in the gallery, are available for visitors to purchase, though simply visiting the gallery is entirely free.
All of Rooney’s proceeds from the gallery will be donated to the Center for Disability Services of Kankakee and Iroquois counties, formerly known as United Cerebral Palsy. A portion of Dunbar’s proceeds will be donated to The Samuel R. Myers Foundation for Suicide and Mental Health Awareness.
For those who would like to hear more about Rooney and his process, an artist gallery talk will be held Thursday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the gallery.
Rooney also is available to create custom art pieces on commission. For more information, email SeanRooney1990@yahoo.com.