Phoebe Murer, who is on the autism spectrum, had lots of dreams growing up, and nothing could really discourage her love of life.
Phoebe Murer, who is on the autism spectrum, had lots of dreams growing up. Her neurodivergent status was definitely a challenge, she said, but nothing could ever really discourage her love of life and willingness to pursue all that life had to offer.
Today, she has achieved many of her dreams. She’s become a successful artist, teacher and writer, and currently has many of her paintings and screen prints on exhibit through Jan. 27 at Allens Lane Art Center, Alber Gallery, 601 W. Allens Lane.
The exhibit, titled “Water Dialectics,” features Murer's lifelong fascination with bodies of water, both natural and man-made.
“I've always dreamed about being a famous artist because I knew it was my gift,” Murer said last week. “And I've always been fascinated by water because I always wanted to swim in it. I liked to look at water to see how deep it was, and I looked to see how shiny it was and how many colors there were in it. Ever since I was a little girl, I've always liked to look at water and paint it. And while I do paint other things, my exhibit at Allens Lane is all about water, from lakes and ponds and interesting public areas to things I've seen from here to as far away as Norway.”
Growing up, Murer said, she met with many obstacles while trying to fulfill her dreams. “For instance, in school many teachers said they couldn't teach me because they had little or no experience teaching children with my kind of learning disability. And then many schools wouldn't accept me, saying they didn't have the means or the knowledge to teach people on the autism spectrum.”
Murer did achieve acceptance, however, as a student at Fleisher Art Memorial in South Philadelphia, where she said her teachers were patient and understanding. That gave her the confidence to eventually teach visual art herself at the Timothy School, a non-profit, private school in Berwyn exclusively for students with autism.
Now in her early 40s and a resident of Center City, Murer has been able to overcome all the nay-sayers, studying for and completing several degrees on her way to a professional career. She received her Certificate of Fine Arts at the Pennsylvania Academy of Arts in Painting, a Bachelor's in Psychology and Pre-Art Therapy at Arcadia University and a Master's in English with an emphasis on creative writing, also at Arcadia.
Murer has had many solo exhibits and has won various awards for her work, including the 2012 INAP (International Naturally Autistic People) Award for Visual Arts, and the 2015 City of Vancouver Mayor's Award. Additionally, she recently had two solo shows at DaVinci Art Alliance in South Philadelphia.
In describing Murer's current show, Vita Litvak, executive director at Allens Lane, said, “This exhibit centers on Murer's fascination with bodies of water, both natural and man-made. Creating images from studies and photographs from all over the world, the artist lends a sense of awe and mystery through her depiction of light, texture and color imbued in these spaces. The more recent screen prints of lakes, rivers and creeks are depicted with highly saturated psychedelic colors, transforming these scenes into dreamlike sensory experiences.”
Despite this success, Murer said she still faces specific challenges due to her autism. “One, I am socially awkward so I'm not great at selling myself,” she said. “Two, I struggle to read faces and body language. Therefore, my images of people and animals look stiff. But I am great with colors because I crave the sensory component of art. Many people on the spectrum love sensory things.”
When not painting, Murer can often be found writing two books. One, she explained, centers on her own trials and tribulations growing up, and the other seeks to help others who are on the spectrum.
“First of all,” she said, “if you're going to continue your education, find a school that understands your needs and has activities meant for people with disabilities. Also, because it's often challenging to find a job, seek out various agencies designed to help you. But all in all, I would say just follow your gut, and treat people the way you'd like to be treated.”
For more information about “Water Dialectics,” call 215-248-0546 or visit allenslane.org. Rita Charleston has been writing profiles of Philadelphia area personalities in the arts for many newspapers and magazines for decades.