If great art comes from great struggle, Mieke Ryneal's paintings are worthy of the Louvre. For the time being, she will settle for the Smithsonian.
The Ashland artist's work is set to go on display in Washington, D.C., as part of a larger exhibit showcasing the work of young artists with disabilities from across the country. The exhibit is sponsored by VSA arts, established in the 1970s to give artists with disabilities a venue where their work could be displayed.
From Studio Sfumato in Medford, Ryneal, 22, has sold more than 30 paintings, with a style that is chaotic but colorful, and uniquely her own.
"I've been drawing and using colors since first grade," said Ryneal. "I didn't get into painting until just a couple of years ago."
Her specialties include Pointillism, an artistic style using small dots to suggest the appearance of a larger image. One of her pointillist works, called "Tree of Life," was made entirely out of such dots. The piece took two months to complete.
Ryneal recently made a surprising discovery: People were willing to pay hundreds of dollars for her work. A recent piece, "Three Towers," sold for $550. Ryneal splits the earnings with Studio Sfumato. She said she would never have imagined growing up that people would one day buy her work.
"It's the most incredible feeling when something sells," she said. "I'm always speechless, tears come down my face and I can't find the words for how happy it makes me."
Ryneal spent a long time searching for that feeling. She was diagnosed with muscle hypotonia at the age of 8, as well as a chromosome disorder that affected her ability to understand complex speech. Individuals with hypotonia have diminished muscle mass, and tire more easily than others.
Ryneal said her peers at school would make fun of her, and she did not have many friends, preferring the solace of her room. It was there that she discovered her talent, and at Studio Sfumato where she found the way to channel it. Dan Mish, director of Studio Sfumato, says Ryneal is the company's top selling artist. He watched her grow from an amateur painter four years ago, to one of the Rogue Valley's premiere young artists.
"She has an amazing ability to concentrate on her work," Mish said, "and her love of colors allows her to make things that people find really appealing. She's grown a lot."
Ryneal says painting offers her an escape, by allowing her to focus her energy on creating something undeniably beautiful. It has taken her from her bedroom, where she would once hide from her insecurities, to the nation's capital — an artist without peers who no longer has anything to fear.
"I finally found something to do own my own, where I can escape into my own little world and don't feel like I have to impress anyone," she said. "I'm happiest when I'm painting."
Her acrylic painting, titled "Picasso," will hang — along with the work of 14 other artists around the country — at the S. Dillon Ripley Center, Sept. 10 through the end of the year. Ryneal will fly with her family Sept. 16 on an expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. There she will meet the other winners at a reception on Capitol Hill, before receiving an Award of Excellence from VSA arts, and a cash prize of $2,000.
"I'm still in awe," she said of the honor. "I feel proud. I can't believe I did this."
Ryneal says she wants to continue making art, and hopes to master new techniques. She acknowledges coming a long way from the fearful young girl she once was, even through high school. And, looking back on the days she once dreaded, she now says she wouldn't trade them for anything.
"Now that I think about the whole school thing, I'm kind of glad," she said. "The disability was kind of a blessing. If I didn't have it I wouldn't have found my art."