By Lee Noles
MATTHEWS — Amanda Hebert Hughes has a word to explain her feelings when dealing with her high functioning autism: stuck.
She feels that way when answering questions on the spot or when too much information comes at her at one time. It’s what she feels when expressing herself to a stranger, or even family and friends.
“Feelings are very difficult for me to convey because I am often not even able to define them myself much less to others,” Hebert Hughes said. “It takes me a lot of time to process feelings and put them into words and oftentimes I am not successful with this no matter how much time I have.”
But Hebert Hughes and her autism are never stuck when it comes to her artwork. The straight lines, placid colors and abstract approach allows the married mother of two a way to express herself without feeling boxed in or cornered. And now the Mecklenburg County resident is displaying her talent at the Comfort Footworks in Matthews that runs through November. Her artwork also allows Hughes a chance to make a statement about her autism.
“If word gets out that I am an example of a thriving, successful and happy adult with high-functioning autism, I just know that this will create more hope for those adults who live with this diagnosis,” said Hebert Hughes of the showing, which is her first.
According to the Center of Disease and Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States with the first signs usually appearing between 2 and 3 years old. The CDC also stated more than 2% of adults in the US are on the spectrum.
Hebert Hughes wasn’t diagnosed until two years ago. By that time, she had developed coping mechanisms to deal with the disorder, which included handling social interaction with humility and kindness.
“This means that I don’t always have to understand where people are coming from to show that I care,” she said.
Although autism brought challenges, art was never one of them. She dabbled here and there as a child but fell in love with it in high school in Saratoga, New York. Ceramics, pencil, charcoal, acrylic; if there was a class, Hebert Hughes was there. Her passion grew in college, but one median that wasn’t offered was oil painting.
Everything changed a few years ago when she came across some oil paint at her house during a move. She bought a package of small canvas frames and proceeded to paint the planets in the solar system.
“There were nine frames in the packet,” Hebert Hughes said on why she decided on her planetary subjects.
Her art grew to include straight lines and symmetrical shapes washed in darker tones. One piece is an eight-foot wide painting with elongated brown, black and white rectangles, and a curving path meandering through the shapes. Hebert Hughes calls it “Striving.”
“It is like flowing water, which is people,” Hebert Hughes said. “And the lines are barriers. And we are going through the barriers every day.”
The abstract approach has Hughes taking objects in everyday life and filtering them through her mind before painting how she sees them. Other times, she looks inward and paints the objects and colors in her imagination.
“I can’t paint them fast enough,” she said.
The prolific output had Hebert Hughes getting in contact with Tim Ricket at Comfort Footworks. The family-owned store has previously displayed artwork.
“I would love for it to result in making my art available to as many arenas as I can,” Hebert Hughes said. “Because with my art, it is my story. Not a lot of people struggle with autism, but there are a lot of people who know people who do. So, I hope it does that as well.”
Want to know more?
The exhibit opens with the opportunity to meet Hebert Hughes from 1 to 4 p.m. Aug. 15 at Comfort Footworks, 924 Park Center Drive, Matthews. The exhibit will continue until November. Visit www.amandaheberthughes-americanartist.com to learn more about her work.