Resident’s Art Is Therapy, Connection to His Community
by IAN NEVAREZ
Roberto Santos admits that he was not always artistic; in fact, he couldn’t draw growing up prior to a car accident that put him in a coma and left him with a traumatic brain injury.
“I don’t know what it was,” he says, “but all of a sudden I could recreate pictures that I saw.”
Roberto lives in a HOPE home in South Gate. He is a tall, young man with kind eyes, and he speaks in a deliberate, thoughtful manner.
On most afternoons you will find him huddled over his sketch book, drawing images of his favorite animals, cartoon characters, and sports teams.
Living with traumatic brain injury means living with physical, cognitive, or behavioral symptoms that can include confusion, anxiety, fatigue, irritability, and headaches, just to name a few. Roberto shares that he turns to his art when he is uneasy or frustrated.
“When I finish a drawing it actually makes me feel better…that I was able to take the time and effort to do something positive.”
Currently his art work is spread out on a table in his kitchen. This room is his favorite place to draw and where he creates most of his work. The space is clutter free with wide windows, and an abundance of natural light. Roberto takes a seat and opens a large portfolio. He begins to methodically finger through drawings, periodically pausing to show his renderings of the iconic cartoon characters Mario, Yoshi, and Pikachu. Next up are the characters of the show Family Guy, then Dracula and a few unfinished pieces he is still working to complete.
His excitement grows as he comes across the drawings he created for HOPE. A few months back Roberto was asked to consider what having safe, stable housing meant to him, and if he wouldn’t mind creating a few “Home” themed drawings that represent those feelings. He graciously agreed and was excited about the idea that his work might be used by HOPE to raise awareness and promote our mission.
They drawings are idyllic depictions of homes-- some on quaint neighborhood streets, while others stand alone with strong roofs and mosaic shaped walls. His drawing style is warm, charming, and containing whimsical tones that might leave a viewer nostalgic for his or her childhood home.
He sees himself continuing to pursue art well into the future because he also believes it is a way to connect with people in his life. He enjoys creating drawings as gifts for friends, but then breaks with this chain of thought to share how art also creates a bridge to cherished family memories. Roberto brings out a drawing of a long, pink flamingo. He tells of how it represents his grandmother who passed away several years ago. “We spread her ashes at the Flamingo hotel in Las Vegas. She loved it there, so I made this to honor her.”
To Roberto, art is therapeutic. It calms his irritability, it is an outlet for his memories, a way to show respect to his family, and an opportunity to contribute something beautiful to his community. His talent and motivations are inspiring to HOPE, and they perfectly demonstrate how providing stable, affordable housing can play a role in empowering people with developmental disabilities to use their many abilities to reach their full potential.