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Geoffrey Lum Perez: Gifted autistic artist

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Geoffrey Lum Perez: Gifted autistic artist

Geoffrey Perez, son of Jose and Connie Perez of Lathrop, smiles as he receives an award from former Lathrop mayor Kristy Sayles for his winning art work that he entered three years ago at the annua...

ROSE ALBANO RISSO/The Bulletin


POSTED July 5, 2013 2:02 a.m.

LATHROP – No one can accuse Connie Lum Perez of being biased when she says her son Geoffrey should have been in baby commercials.

That’s not just parental prejudice or favoritism. That’s nothing but the truth. And much, much more.

When he was a baby, people were struck by Geoffrey’s Shirley Temple curls. And his smile was so bright it “lit up an entire room,” in the words of his mother, prompting those around him to comment that he should be in the movies.

Well, Hollywood did not beckon. But something else did, and it’s one that continues to amaze not just his parents – Connie and Jose – to no end, but also his closely knit family, friends, plus a growing fan base in the art community.

What became of the beautiful baby was nothing short of a miracle – from being diagnosed as autistic to being an award-winning gifted artist today.

To get a sharper focus of that miraculous metamorphosis that took place through the years, Connie takes the story back to when Geoffrey was a baby. He was born in 1984. Things were normal in the beginning.

“Many of his developmental milestones were met exactly on time – rolling over, walking, even his first words. All were on time until just before his second birthday,” Connie said.

Then, just overnight, came the devastating revelation. Geoffrey’s speech all but disappeared, she recalled. “He cried constantly and nothing could appease him. Tantrums and crying filled most of our days, and there were only utterances where there once were words.”

During those early years, verbal communication with others became painfully difficult for Geoffrey whose world “seemed filled with sensory overload,” Connie recalled.

“What were normal sights, sounds, smells to us could be devastatingly disastrous for Geoffrey. Take, for instance, singing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song. As many of his former teachers will attest to, belting out the celebratory birthday song was usually a happy occasion. It nearly always meant a meltdown for Geoffrey. If caught unprepared, he would run bolting and screaming out of the room.”

Finally, a diagnosis: Autism

Initial consultations with various specialists simply concluded that the problem with Geoffrey was that he was “severely delayed.” Finally, when Geoffrey was nearly 7 years old, they received a medical answer. The diagnosis – autism.

This was the mid-1990s. Autism was on the rise. But it was not yet at epidemic levels that it is today. The only silver lining, if one could call it that, for the Perezes came from the clinical psychologist who was on the diagnostic team that pronounced the previously unknown condition of Geoffrey, who said, “I wouldn’t wish autism on my worst enemy, but if there was a time to have it, it’s now.”

But that didn’t lessen the difficulty that Geoffrey and his parents faced. For Connie and Jose Perez, there was hardly anything they could do to prepare themselves for their son’s “meltdown moments.” For young Geoffrey, he did not have any way either to let his parents know how and when to anticipate the emotional bumps.

Then the miracle happened. He started to draw. And his drawings became his communication vehicle, his emotional release.



Art as communication, and vice versa

“One of Geoffrey’s very first pictures depicted a birthday celebration. He drew a table with a birthday cake, complete with candles, surrounded by many smiling children. To the far right of this scene, he drew himself with tears streaming down his face. Many more pictures followed – mostly of his favorite things. Those included Grandmother’s chandeliers, elevators, furniture and objects with geometrical design, lines and patterns,” Connie said, describing the epiphany of their son’s miraculous artistic talents.

“For Geoffrey, drawing and sketching became a way of communicating his world to the outside world. It consumed him at times – driving objects and scenes over and over, picture after picture. However, tantrums and outbursts were on the decrease and his speech development improved during this time. Drawing his favorite things made him happy and we were happy, too,” Connie said.

Eight years ago, Geoffrey’s uncle, Carlos Perez, produced a calendar that highlighted a collection of the young artist’s favorite subjects – the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the San Francisco skyline.

The calendar drawings caught the eye of Carlos’ friend, Vincent M. Espinosa, a sociologist who happened to be working on a biographical essay about a very gifted autistic artist by the name of Martin Ramirez. The sociologist was struck by the likeness between the works of Ramirez and Geoffrey.

The Perezes also learned a new artistic term:  “outsider art,” which is defined as (1) “a genre of art and outdoor constructions made by untrained artists who do not recognize themselves as artists; (2) naïve art, primitive art, self-taught art, vernacular art; (3) a class of art (or artistic endeavor) having a characteristic form or technique.

Geoffrey’s artistic portfolio consists of “hundreds, possibly thousands” of drawings and sketches of the Bay Bridge and the San Francisco skyline.

Like Ramirez, Geoffrey focuses on just a few subjects which are drawn repeatedly with each one a little different from the last.

And like another gifted autistic artist, Stephen Wilshire, Geoffrey draws mostly from memory – “cities he’s visited or from pictures he’s seen. It can be said with confidence that Geoffrey has a photographic memory,” Connie said of her son.

“Lathrop’s gem” reached another level of accomplishment when he started submitting his art works in the annual Lathrop Mayor’s Art Purchase Award Show and Sale. That was three years ago. He has since won several honorable mention awards and Sponsor Awards.

In 2010, Geoffrey started attending The Alan Short Center in Stockton where another of his talents was discovered: an ear for music.

You can find out more about Geoffrey by logging on to http://virtualfeast.org/artists/lum-perez/

Geoffrey is the youngest of Connie and Jose Perez’s three sons, all biological brothers, who were adopted when they were infants. Geoffrey was a premature baby and stayed in the hospital more than a month before he was brought home.

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