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The Age

GRAPHIC MEMOIR

Author: OWEN RICHARDSON
Date: 01/10/2011
Words: 273
Source: AGE
          Publication: The Age
Section: Life & Style
Page: 30
HIDDEN

Mirranda Burton

Black Pepper, $20

"WHEN I took a part-time job as an art instructor to people with 'intellectual disabilities', ranging from Down syndrome to autism," Mirranda Burton writes, "I was rescued from learned ideas about human progress." This short book of four graphic narratives introduces those who rescued Burton. The old line about how they taught her as much as she taught them comes to life, so natural and unassuming is Burton's way of telling the story. There is Eddie, who fills in each piece of paper with pencil lines until he gouges a hole in the page, and Julie, whose severe autism coincides with an artistic gift good enough for Burton to try to get her into a mainstream art school; and Steve, who only a mother could love. Burton's depiction of her charges is wry and warm and never mawkish.

The society that is outside the art room has various ways of being ungiving or threatening. Julie is mugged, and she can't get into that art school because of the essay requirements: the government wants people to move from assisted to independent living, with all the strain and disruption that goes along with that.

And towards the end even the art room itself is under threat: as in some post-apocalyptic fantasy, the buildings around the facility are closed down one by one, abandoned and left to the elements.

Burton has a strong, straightforward visual style, with the emphatic though never overstated lines of a woodcut, and it moves easily from realism to occasional flashes of fantasy to suggest both her students' strange inner worlds and her own sense of disorientation.

 
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