Featuring Minnie Evans, Nellie Mae Rowe, Shinichi Sawada, James W. Washington
The mission of Project Onward is to support the creative growth of visual artists with mental and developmental disabilities. Project Onward provides studio space, art supplies and professional guidance to artists who have exceptional talents but face challenges ranging from autism to mental illness. We believe that artists with special needs deserve a voice in the world of art and ideas, and that their extraordinary work has a universal audience.
Paul Kowalewski (b. 1957)
Paul Kowalewski (b. 1957) makes oil paintings and graphite drawings of strange places, zones of dream and anachronism. Cherubs, romanesque columns, and Victorian time-pieces float above endless horizons and stormy skies. Kowalewski invests these fractured planes with an obsessive level of texture, often spending more than a year on a single piece.
In a previous life chapter, Kowalewski worked for over twenty-five years as a roofer. This punishing work pushed him towards the pitfalls of drugs, alcohol, and eventually trouble with the law. During Kowalewski’s seven years in federal prison, he found new purpose as an artist, landing upon the alias “Dada Obscura”. Kowalewski joined Project Onward in 2017 and was a 2023 artist-in-residence at the Ragdale Foundation.
Tony Davis (b. 1960)
Tony Davis (b. 1960) makes ink drawings of pimps, dealers, prostitutes and other denizens of West-Side Chicago’s mean streets. The brawls, orgies, and shady transactions depicted are pulled from Davis’s life experiences. “I want people to see the nitty-gritty, the true street life,” he says. But the artist heightens this material into fantastic comic-book dramas, equally fixated on obscene details and extravagant costumes.
Davis grew up in the ABLA Homes, a West Side housing project notorious for gangs, drugs, and violence. In the 1970s, he fell into the life of a pimp, rubbing shoulders with underworld characters and taking a burst of buckshot that he still carries in his legs. Davis left this life behind in 1986 and started to draw several years later. By the 2000s, he was selling his artwork on the street. One customer, noticing the vibrance of Davis’s color palette, nicknamed him “Bright” - a moniker that stuck. Davis joined Project Onward in 2008, where his artwork has flourished and gained international recognition.
Sereno Wilson (b. 1979)
Sereno Wilson (b. 1979) is so committed to his artistic medium that it’s landed him a nickname - “Glitterman.” He applies the material in blocks of shimmering color, layered with acrylic paints and often embedded with rhinestones and other treasures. His work depicts royalty of all stripes - European monarchs, GOATs of hip hop, Haitian gods, and cartoon icons. Wilson also has his own lexicon of symbols, from “devil bananas” to “hot cherries”, that work as shiny talismans of good fortune.
Wilson was born in Germany and moved to Chicago at a young age. In high school he joined Gallery 37, an arts training program for youth in Chicago. He excelled as a painter and left his mark on the program’s citywide series of painted benches. Wilson’s transition from a painter to a full-fledged “Glitterman” has been a long one, filled with many mixed media explorations. In 2019, he had the solo exhibition Haitian Symbols and Spirits at the The Haitian American Museum of Chicago. Wilson joined Project Onward in 2009 and currently lives in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood.