Artist Leonard Wilson | Credit: Tony Mastres for SBCOAC

Tucked behind a downtown Santa Barbara laundromat lies a hidden gem. Inside of Slingshot / Alpha Art Studio, artists are diligently honing their crafts in every medium from watercolors to pottery in preparation for their upcoming Botanic Garden exhibit (opening July 27 and on view through December 1). As I walked around the studio admiring the work, one of Slingshot’s 35 working artists, Leonard Wilson, triumphantly presented his multimedia landscape to me. He proudly smiled and spelled out his name using American Sign Language (ASL) in introduction.

As one of Slingshot’s first residents in their opening year 2013, Wilson is a friendly face around the studio and a prolific artist. Slingshot serves adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and has opened doors for Wilson and other artists to sell and show their work all across Santa Barbara County. As someone who’s deaf, art is a huge means of expression for Wilson and he has gravitated toward it since his grandmother and mother introduced it to him at a young age.

Mixed media work by Leonard Wilson | Photo: Courtesy

“Our intent and focus is to cultivate the independent studio art practice and spend time with all of our artists and get to know what their artistic expression involves,” said gallery director Jessica Schlobohm. “Then we figure out how we can best facilitate and promote that.” By providing the space for their artists to hone in on their interests, Slingshot works to expand social and economic inclusion to those with disabilities.

Slingshot’s current exhibit, New Muralism: Inclusive Visions of Self and Place, falls right in line with their mission. “[Muralism] often gives voices to people who haven’t had as much of a voice in the public discourse and that’s something we’re all about,” Schlobohm said. Located in the Channing Peake Gallery on the first floor of the County Administration Building (105 E. Anapamu St.), the exhibit features 10 “mural-scale” works rendered from smaller original works and 3D sculpture.

The large-scale work compliments the high ceilings and long hallways of the civic space and exposes a new audience to art. “[The County Administration Building] is used daily by people when they’re going to pay their taxes or taking care of running the city,” Schlobohm said.

Artist Leonard Wilson | Credit: Tony Mastres for SBCOAC

Wilson has two murals, “Big Hands” and “Nature Trek,” along with three small sculptures and a ceramic coiled bowl in the exhibit. “Big Hands” was originally an engraved ceramic of an abstracted figure enlarged to fill the big walls of Channing Peake. The line work and expression in the piece is “very true to [Wilson’s] tradition of a quick, immediate, gestural sketch,” according to Schlobohm.

Complementing the mural are three ambiguous ceramic figures that also emphasize the hands. Although not explicitly expressed by Wilson, Schlobohm interprets this trope as a nod to his “reliance on his hands as his primary mode of communication.”

“Nature Trek” is Wilson’s deconstructed interpretation of a landscape featuring bright colors and abstract plants and animals, which are also common themes among Wilson’s body of work.

Upon getting a glimpse into Wilson’s portfolio at the studio, it became apparent that Wilson has a very distinct artist’s hand and a real confidence with his bold lines and vibrant colors. Although he has expanded his practice into new mediums, according to Schlobohm, Wilson’s style has remained consistent since he started at Slingshot.

Wilson works quickly and instinctually, creating fun, whimsical art. His figure drawings and sculptures don’t tend to represent anyone particular and ascend the norms of gender binary. Schlobohm described his forms as “androgynous mashups of different sexes.”

Wilson attended the gallery opening in March accompanied by his mother and grandmother, the women who inspired him to pursue art. The New Muralism exhibit will run through November and Wilson goes back to admire his work as often as he can.

To support the artists at Slingshot, they ask that you go see the exhibits and look at their upcoming show in collaboration with the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Their work is also for sale either online or in the studio located at 1911 De la Vina Street, Suite B. See

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