Watertown man with autism headlines art exhibit in Cambridge

WATERTOWN, Mass — There’s an art exhibit going on right now at LabCentral, a shared biotech laboratory in Cambridge’s Kendal Square, that features the work of an artist who has found his voice through art.

The exhibit is called “What I See” and it features the inspiring work of a young man from Watertown, Dominic Killiany, who has autism.  It has a lot of people asking what they see, while Dominic continues to keep many guessing.

Dominic’s method is unique. He often finds images and photos he likes and emulates them, sketching copies in pencil. And then, just like a paint by numbers book, he numbers every space of the sketch - often up into the thousands. And then he paints every space in acrylic paint.

Many of his paintings are jungle themed.

“It seems that Dominic was a lion or a tiger in another life. He loves safari animals. We’re not sure why. He was born in the year of the tiger in 1998,” Dominic’s mother, Susan Cicconi, explained.

Painting is Dominic’s favorite way of communicating, it seems. At 24 years old, he has limited language skills and communication with others is still a struggle. So he’s unable to talk about the meaning behind his paintings, and they’re left open to interpretation.  His mother and father say that’s the beauty of it.

“He does not see need to speak. He’ll do everything he can to avoid speaking. But he’ll communicate in his own way. And I believe this is his form of communication,” said Dominic’s dad, Michael Killiany.

Unbelievably, it is all completely self-taught. Dominic has never had an art lesson, but both his mother and grandmother were artists, and his mother started exposing him to art books at a young age. As a toddler, he was obsessed with drawing street signs on his driveway with chalk.

“Most times he’d perfectly copy the sign, and he’d actually spell the words in the sign which was really kind of freaky for a 2-year-old to be spelling,” said his Dad.

When Dominic was 14, he discovered paint by numbers, and his parents say it was life changing. Like many individuals with autism, Dominic struggles with attention and anxiety, but when he sits down to sketch, he’s calm and focused.

“It’s his form of release, it’s his form of dealing with life through the issues that he has, it relaxes him and he has a love for it and a talent for it, and he has a need to do it sometimes. It can become an obsession,” said his Dad.

Dominic now paints weekly. His paintings sell for thousands of dollars. To date, he’s sold 70. The hope is he can continue to sell them to help become more financially independent.

And another hope is having his paintings on display at LabCentral will inspire and motivate its resident scientists and entrepreneurs working on all kinds of treatments for a wide range of conditions to not forget about autism research.

“I love to throw it back to the researchers and scientists here who are working right across the way from the paintings - “what do you see?”- because of these letters and numbers and shapes and patterns and coding - who knows,” said Dominic’s mom.

There will be another public viewing reception of Dominic’s exhibit at LabCentral in Kendall Square on Wednesday, January 25th from 9:30 to 11:30 p.m. LabCentral is located at 238 Main Street in Cambridge.

For more information on how to purchase one of his paintings go to www.dominicreations.com or follow Dominic on Instagram - @dominicreations

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