Artist Adrian Lazzaro
Adrian Lazzaro is sketching with a black, fine-tipped pen in a large book of blank tax invoice forms, the paper thin as Communion wafer. He’s wearing glasses and a black tracksuit with paint on the knee, and he has a bald head that swings – sometimes to the music that’s playing randomly from utube and sometimes to the rhythm of his sketching.
“What are you drawing?” I ask.
“Caroline,” he says. I watch Caroline Wylds’ face emerge in sketchy black ink. Wylds is a comic artist and illustrator, who is working with Lazzaro on an upcoming exhibition of his scrapbooks and drawings. It’s an exhibition that sees visual artists Brennan Olver and Katherine Botten respond to his work, making Adrian Lazzaro fan art, of sorts. We’re in the Arts Project studio space, a light-filled converted warehouse in Northcote, Melbourne. Arts Project provides support, space and resources for artists with intellectual disability. Arts Project artists are often paired with an external artist for collaboration. Some artists work together for decades. Lazzaro and Wylds’ collaboration is a new one, but Lazzaro has been making art at Arts Project for 12 years. Other artists are seated at desks around the walls, or at big white tables in the centre of the room. Today everyone is working on a zine.
Lazzaro draws fast. Wylds’ portrait is full of movement. He turns the thin page over.
“What are you drawing now?” I ask.
“You,” and then I watch my own face emerge in the same style. He flicks the page over.
“Evil vampire teddy, vampire teddy.”
This is one of Lazzaro’s recurring motifs. Angry bear, mental bear, vampire bear. Sketches of bears surround us, they’re drawn on paper lunch bags, thin-lined paper, bits ripped out and of uneven shapes. “Bad bear. Teddy bears are good. Teddy bears are fun. Teddy bears are cute, yeah?” he says. He draws on whatever, with whatever comes to hand. I ask about his process and he says, “I just like pens. Not Sean Penn. I like pens, but not Sean Penn.”
There’s also a fruit box filled with sketchbooks. The sketchbooks are fat. Inside, each page is sticky-taped with collages. They’re mostly photographs of the TV screen, close up, so you wouldn’t know it was a photograph of a screen except for the telltale flare of the flash. The photographs are printed out, cut and taped into the book. There are cutouts from magazines too, and photographs of Lazzaro himself, on a cruise, his family. Fozzie Bear and a seal, two stuffed toys he likes to photograph, reappear in the sketchbooks over and over again, in an absurd still life. Some of the photographs are drawn over with permanent marker. He has a collection of more than 90 sketchbooks. He’s already made another this week.
“I think I’m going to draw Abraham Lincoln next,” he says. “Reckon that looks like you?” He shows me my portrait. Begins another drawing.
There’s a list of things he’s been thinking about, which has become the abstract for his exhibition: Everything Is Going On. He reads some of them out.
Holden Monaro Ford Mustang
Jean-Claude Van Damme movies
Movies with Charlie Sheen
Tommy Lee Bass Tommy Lee Jones
Longest reigning champions
Giant González, tallest wrestler
When Jesus was born and died
Ferrari got a horse logo
Lamborghini got a bull
Lesbians and all the sexes
Katy Perry, I kissed a girl
Michael Myers, Mike Myers
The death of my aunty
Christmas, New Year’s Eve
Labor and Liberal
Sound of music
North and South
Odd and even numbers
Winter Olympics normal Olympics
A pack of birds is actually a flock
A pack of fish is a school”
He’s swinging his head. He’s drawing. He’s talking about wrestling. “I like watching wrestling, it’s fun. Wrestling isn’t real. Actually, Olympic wrestling is real, not the other one. Romans they used to wrestle, and the Greeks.” He’s singing to the Lion King soundtrack, swapping the words around. “Can you feel the lion tonight…” He’s drawing. He’s talking about how his disability is a superpower. “I just remember everything, just remembering things, and I’m pretty good at drawing.” He swings his head, he smiles, he starts a new picture.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 27, 2019 as "The artist stripped bear". Subscribe here.