Several months ago, I was sitting in Plum’s Upper Room having a drink and admiring what I believed to be four large photographs of a beautiful young woman that adorn the restaurant’s walls. That’s when Jayne Nolting, the owner of Plum’s, explained to this artistic neophyte that they were not photographs. Jayne told me that three of the works are oil paintings and that the black and white one behind the bar is a charcoal drawing. Recently, I discovered that the story of the local artist that created these captivating works, Austin Pittman, is as amazing as the works themselves.
Austin Pittman graduated from Zionsville High School in 1994. By his own admission, Austin was not a remarkable student and, in fact, failed high school art class. It was not that Austin lacked ability. Austin, like so many in high school, simply didn’t know where he wanted to go with his life. Austin told me he was an avid reader in high school but, unfortunately, what he was reading had nothing to do with the subjects of his high school classes. After high school, Austin sort of bounced around doing a number of different jobs, including working as a drywall installer. Once, he successfully challenged himself to travel all the way to Colorado with just the single quarter he had in his pocket, his guile, and resourcefulness.
Eight years out of high school and 26 years old, Austin finally decided it was time to have some direction in his life. While always having an interest in art, he enrolled at IUPUI and applied to the Herron School of Art. Because of lackluster grades in high school, he was not admitted to Herron until after he finished his freshman year at IUPUI.
Unfortunately, in the spring immediately following his freshman year, Austin was involved in a terrible accident. While standing on the roof of a friend’s apartment in downtown Indy celebrating the friend’s recent engagement, Austin fell two stories and suffered a severe head injury. The initial prognosis was not good and included the possibility that he could be in a permanent vegetative state. After waking from a two-week coma, Austin had to go through therapy to learn to walk and talk again. Undeterred, he started back to school in the fall term, even though he admits that he was far less than fully functional mentally. The doctors strongly recommended to his parents that Austin be on constant medical supervision. He rejected the doctor’s recommendation and sought to live by himself and finish college.
The road to normalcy and full functionality after his fall was long and full of pitfalls. During his sophomore year, Austin lived in a crime-ridden building near the IUPUI campus where he was the target of several physical attacks and robberies due to the fact that his obviously limited mental capacities made him a vulnerable target. Although not fully recovered, Austin graduated from the Herron School of Art and then went on to receive a Masters degree in Fine Art from the prestigious Pennsylvania School of the Fine Arts, the oldest art museum and art school in the country.
Slowly, Austin’s mental abilities began to improve to where he is fully recovered today. Austin credits his passion for art as instrumental in his recovery. According to Austin, the intense focus that his art required helped retrain his mind to develop the concentration he needed to improve in the more mundane functions of life. In addition, the sense of accomplishment he gained from the growth and development in his artwork also provided a sense of confidence that he was truly making progress toward full recovery.
Austin is presently married and the father a young son, Oliver, a name that Austin gave his son as a result of his love of history and the works of the English writer, Charles Dickens. While working on his own art projects and some commissioned portraits, Austin has taught various drawing and art history classes at Sullivan-Munce, the Art Institute of Indianapolis, the Broad Ripple Art Center, and Franklin College.
While taking a drawing class taught by Austin at Sullivan Munce several years ago, Jayne Nolting became a friend and one of Austin’s strongest supporters. As a result, Plum’s Upper Room has unintentionally become a gallery for some of Austin’s early works. In an effort to support her friend and to promote a local artist, Jayne has graciously agreed to hold a public exhibition of Austin’s work at Plum’s Upper Room on June 15 at 2-5 PM. The exhibition will include newer work by Austin, not just the four pieces on semi-permanent display on Plum’s Upper Room’s walls. Please feel free to stop by and meet this remarkable young man and talk to him about his work that will be on display, or check out his work at austinpittman.com