Sunday, June 24, 2018
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Barista with autism sketches a fantasy world on the back of cafe's receipts

TAMPA

Buy a cup of coffee at Artistas Cafe and your order might find a place in an elaborate world of fantasy.

Remmick Wadsworth, a barista at the cafe, uses the backs of thousands of flimsy, cast-off paper receipts to sketch dragons, robots, sea monsters, lairs for evildoers and hideouts for those who would vanquish them.

Some make it into paintings more fully depicting a particular alternate reality.

All are part of a larger story Wadsworth is trying to tell so he can better fit into the real world around him.

"It used to be difficult for me to express myself," said Wadsworth, 26, who has autism. "It's a little easier now."

Wadsworth has used art as his outlet for years, but until recently he was too nervous to share anything he created.

Six years ago, he was hired at the Artistas Cafe inside Mercedes-Benz of Tampa, 4400 N Dale Mabry Highway, which employs young autistic men and women so they can learn to function in the working world.

It was there that Wadsworth first began displaying paintings.

Serving coffee five days a week taught him to engage with others and gave him the courage to present his work from the previous year at a recent art show in West Tampa's Santaella Studios for the Arts. Introverted by nature, he managed to spend the evening chatting with strangers.

"I couldn't have done that a few years ago," he said.

He's made a few sales, he said, adding to his confidence.

"He is an amazing talent whether he is autistic or not," said his classical drawing teacher, Kerry Vosler, whose classroom is part of Santaella Studios — an old cigar factory where space is available only for those in a creative field.

Still, Vosler said, it wasn't until early May that she realized the breadth of his work.

Wadsworth sometimes carried a locked black ArtBin tackle box to Vosler's classes. Then, two weeks back, he left it open and Vosler peeked inside.

"He had a whole world in there," she said. "Hundreds upon hundreds of his sketches on receipts. He covered an entire table with them."

It dawned on her that the characters in his paintings were born on the back of receipts.

In one painting, a blue woman with red hair who can breathe underwater is engaged in a battle with a winged, razor-toothed sea slug. In another, a cloaked blue woman is surrounded by demonic creatures.

Some receipts bear the images of the women's heads or the slug's wings. Others show each character fully developed.

When he showed his receipt work to Vosler, it marked the first time he'd discussed them with anyone but family — another step in his social progress. And while his parents were aware of the receipts, even they were unaware of their scope.

"They're pretty personal," Wadsworth said. "I didn't think anyone would see value in them."

The thousands of receipt sketches eventually will form a single story that he's still framing.

He compared it to Dinotopia, a fictional book series created by James Gurney about a utopian island where humans and dinosaurs live together

"This is like his Lord of the Rings," Vosler said.

Wadsworth shares a number of characteristics with his older brother, Russell Wadsworth, 28. Russell also has autism, is a talented artist and works as a barista at Artistas while helping market the business.

Russell Wadsworth is creating cartoon coffee bean characters — a maniacal boss and a day dreamer among them — for display on cafe merchandise such as mugs and shirts.

"I'm spearheading my own little world," he said.

The brothers were among the first employees hired at Artistas Cafe, founded in 2011 by Vicky Westra and her nonprofit Art for Autism.

The cafe is visited mostly by those shopping at the dealership. Working there teaches employees skills such as focusing on a task.

Remmick Wadsworth was asked to stop bringing his large sketch pad to work because it proved a distraction for him. But the ideas kept coming, so three years ago he looked around for somewhere to sneak a sketch and grabbed a discarded receipt.

"This story he is creating is always on his mind," Vosler said. "And he's always able to reach into his mind to grab something, whatever is bubbling up at that moment."

Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

   
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