The floral still life looked perfectly fine.

The purple, pink and white flowers, bright-green stems and brown pot were centered. A small window in the upper-left corner added dimension. The background colors were pleasing.

Other artists might have declared it done.

Not Devin Wildes.

Wildes headed to a paper cutter at the other end of Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts in St. Paul and began slicing his picture into 1-inch strips. Then he took the 11 pieces of paper and placed them next to each other in an off-kilter way.

Glued onto a larger canvas, the still life — a birthday present for his grandmother — was transformed into a piece of modern art.

“He knows exactly what he’s doing,” said his mother, A.J. Paron-Wildes. “He thinks very methodically. He has it all planned out.”

After he finishes drawing a picture of flowers, Devin Wildes, slices it and rearranges it before gluing it to paper at Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts, Thursday, April 19, 2018. (Jean Pieri / Pioneer Press)
After he finishes drawing a picture of flowers, Devin Wildes, slices it and rearranges it before gluing it to paper at Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts, Thursday, April 19, 2018. (Jean Pieri / Pioneer Press)

Wildes, who has a severe form of autism, struggles to pay attention. He has trouble learning and interacting with others. He rarely speaks.

But when he was 5 years old, Wildes learned to draw.

“He would bring home beautiful stuff from kindergarten,” Paron-Wildes said. “He started to seek our approval. He would go, ‘Look! Look what I made!’ and you could see the joy in his face. He was good at art because he’s super highly visual, but I was, like, ‘I need him to speak. I need him to do math, and I need him to excel at school …’ ”

When he was 15, his mother attended a creativity conference. “I thought, ‘What am I doing?’ ” she said. “ ‘Let’s have him spend the summer doing the things he loves.’ So that summer, I pulled him from summer school and sent him to art camps the whole summer. He was a different kid. He loved it.”

Wildes, 22, now spends five days a week at Interact Center, whose mission is to create art that challenges perceptions of disability. The center is licensed by the state Department of Human Services, through a contract with Hennepin County.

Wildes lives with his parents, Pete and A.J., and his younger sister, Ava, 9, in Oak Park Heights. He takes Metro Mobility to and from the center, paying for the transportation and the program with a form of Medicaid assistance known as a “waiver.”

About 70 artists are enrolled in Interact’s open-studio program and attend three to five days a week, said Erin McKillip, visual arts client services coordinator for Interact. Guest artists teach classes, and attendees have access to unlimited supplies.

At Interact, Wildes is “extremely focused” and “knows exactly what he wants to create,” McKillip said.

“He has his own vision and his own plan, so he’s already fairly established,” she said. “We’re just helping him update his résumé and making sure that he has as many opportunities to show his work as possible. He loves to speak to the public, he loves sharing his artwork. It’s wonderful. He’s very talented, very gifted, and we’re lucky that he’s here.”

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