"Portrait of My Son Jack and His Autism", encaustic and mixed media, 40"x40" ©Marybeth Rothman

Typically my encaustic mixed media portraits, include vintage photography. Recently I decided to branch out and use my own photography. Posted here is a portrait of one of my sons.

After many months of following my son Jack with a camera, I realized this would not only be portrait of him, but also his autism. I recorded the severity of this disorder that has defined his place in the world, excluded him from society, and denied him the beauty and subtleties of life.  Portrait of My Son Jack and His Autism is a story told from a distant, isolated and awkward place. Armed with a only a few utterances, Jack wanders through the world overwhelmed by words and sounds that he cannot understand and people he will never know.  Jack responds to the world viscerally, indifferent and at times with small sparks of recognition.   The photograph that I chose for this painting portrays my son as he blocks out the sound in an ordinary situation, which for him is a swirling storm that he cannot navigate.

My encaustic and mixed media approach to portraits is cumulative, adding many subtle layers of paint, paper, and photographs to form an amalgam of biographical texture. In response to this intensive examination in Portrait of My Son Jack and His Autism, I worked more intuitively. I observed that I had unconsciously added more layers than usual of biographical annotation, more vigorous incising, scraping and a rougher surface. I sculpted and enlarged the image to allow for more intimacy between the viewer and the work. The interplay of the opacity and translucency of the encaustic paint became an essential element in this narrative portrait. The many-layered process created a visual depth that uniquely describes the complex life of this young man.


  1. This is very touching Marybeth. I have two nephews who have Asperger’s Syndrome and one with Pervasive Developmental Disorder so I was profoundly moved by this piece.
    You are probably already aware of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network but if not you might find this link helpful: http://www.autisticadvocacy.org/
    I also check out the Neuro Tribes blog from time to time – it has a bunch of interesting links off of it as well – http://blogs.plos.org/neurotribes/
    Wishing you and Jack all the best,


  2. Touching and beautiful.

  3. I have just come to your blog from Judy’s wax course. Your work is beautiful especially this one of your son. I have worked with and have friends who have Autistic children and this speaks out loud to me. I am an Artist and Photographer and have been using my own images for a long time in my Art. While reading about wax and doing Judy’s class, l had decided that l wanted to use my images and wax. DSeeing this image of yours makes me realise that l ha ve made the right decisionxxlynda

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your impetus for this piece. When I first saw the image, I felt his isolation deeply. Your writing confirms all the emotions I had on my initial view of the painting. Moving and beautiful.