Autistic artist asked to create piece after chance encounter

Alan Lucchesi with his specially commissioned Balmoral piece
Alan Lucchesi with his specially commissioned Balmoral piece
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PAINTING a giant canvas of one of Edinburgh’s most intricate and well-known buildings would be a challenge for even the most renowned artist.

But that is exactly what autistic painter Alan Lucchesi did after being commissioned by a couple who spotted his artwork by chance, walking by the gallery where he and other artists with autism display their creations.

His unique portrayal of the Balmoral Hotel stands at more than a metre high, and took eight weeks to complete.

“We saw Alan’s work in the window and loved his style. I knew this was exactly what we wanted,” said Cheryl Young, the painting’s new owner.

Alan, 22, is a trainee at the Gallery on the Corner, a charity which helps people with autism improve their artistic skills so they can sell their work.

Along with fellow trainees, Alan has sold thousands of pounds worth of art this year, meaning the charity, run by Autism Initiatives, can reinvest in helping more aspiring artists.

But it is the latest creation by Alan, who has Asperger syndrome, which has stunned staff at the gallery.

Couple Cheryl and David Young were passing when they spotted a smaller picture he had painted of the Balmoral.

On learning it had already been sold, they asked if he would paint them another as they had been married there and had fond memories of it.

They had no idea the gallery was a charitable initiative for people with autism, meaning they selected him purely on artistic merit. Mrs Young said: “I had no idea the gallery was a social enterprise.”

The painting, which has traces of Alan’s fondness for animation, is entirely black and white, except for a tiny splash of purple highlighting the room in which the couple stayed.

Two clock faces also show different times, both of which are symbolic to the couple.

Alan, from Dalkeith, said: “I like it here [at the gallery] because it allows me to express my own style. I could never do that at school.

“I like modern buildings more, but the Balmoral is like something special from the Dark Ages.”

The gallery was set up last year and has agreed to take on ten more trainees. As well as honing their artistic skills, they also learn general work skills such as maintenance of the gallery, operating the till, and dealing with customers.

This helps prepare them for life after the placement should they go into employment, though the charity is looking for ways to continue supporting their art beyond that period.

Manager Susie Anderson said: “The aim is to get people on the autism spectrum to create art that is commercially viable.

“When people come in they’re often surprised to learn about who has created the paintings, which can be a bit patronising.

“Everyone we’ve had in seems to benefit in some way.”