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‘Brain Wirings’ From Young Artist to Benefit Camp Rainbow Gold
Nicholas Kontaxis’ family names his paintings after words or phrases he says while painting, such as “Delicious.”
Monday, August 14, 2017


When Nicholas Kontaxis was 14 months, he abruptly had a seizure in his mother’s lap.

In the 20 years since, he has experienced more than 40,000 seizures caused by a slow-growing brain tumor. The ensuing havoc in his brain has caused autism and developmental delay, despite a myriad of therapies and surgeries.

But it’s also led to a flair for artistic expression that has landed his acrylic paintings in galleries next to works by the likes of Andy Warhol. He was just picked by 17 architects to provide art for the Kaiser Hospital in Los Angeles. And he was asked to paint a 28-foot piece for a new restaurant in the Palm Springs Desert.

Nicholas, who is able to express through painting what he cannot express verbally, will show 25 of his works during a one-day show titled “Sun is Shining” on Wednesday, Aug. 16, at Gilman Contemporary, 661 Sun Valley Road. The gallery opens at noon, and an artist party and reception will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. with sushi and wine donated by Zou 75 and Valley Apothecary.

Proceeds from sales will go towards Camp Rainbow Gold, a summer camp for youngsters with cancer where Nicholas was a camper for eight years.

“We had a show for him at De Re Gallery in Los Angeles in April and 850 people showed up, including such stars as Mary Hart and Tiffani Thiessen,” said Nicholas’ mother Krisann Kontaxis, who spends part of the year every year in Sun Valley with her family. “Kris Cronin, who worked at Camp Rainbow Gold while Nicholas was there, was at the show and she said we just had to do a show in Sun Valley.”

That young Nicholas is able to produce such art is testament to his fighting spirit.

He has tried every seizure medication there is but he hasn’t seen a day without a seizure since that first one 20 years ago. He can have up to 30 in a row—convulsions that knock him to the ground.

Doctors encouraged his parents to institutionalize him.

“We didn’t want to institutionalize him. We said, ‘We’ll make our house the best institution we can,’ ” said his mother.

While aides accompanied him to special education classes, his parents had him do puzzles and artwork following seizures.

“We were very concerned he would sleep his life away if we just let him go to sleep following the seizures,” his mother said.

Painting helped him bounce back and at age 15 Nicholas was allowed to take regular art classes in high school.

“He couldn’t draw figures or detail work, but he sat in a corner and over the next four years he kept developing a technique around painting,” his mother said.

At 18 Nicholas tried to enroll in a five-year post school Job Share program. But working on an assembly line posed too much danger since he could have hurt himself on sharp metal corners had he fallen during a seizure. He couldn’t work at the animal shelter because of allergies. And he was unable to do other jobs because of weakness on his right side.

“The one thing he could do is paint—he likes the quiet, the peace it brings him,” said Krisann.

Program managers said they would accept Nicholas’ work as a painter, provided he could sell some of his paintings. He sold a few to friends and family and suddenly he was being offered a gallery show.

“I’m not sure what he thinks about the shows,” said Krisann. “But I think he’s thinking: ‘Wow! How did that picture that was on the floor get up on the wall?’ Or, ‘Wow! I love that color!’ ”

The Kontaxis family converted their garage in Rancho Mirage, Calif., into a studio for their son. A friend made five easels so he could paint from a variety of positions, including the floor, a chair or while standing.

“Nicky’s best skill is repetition,” said his father Dr. Euthym Kontaxis, medical director of the Emergency Department at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage. “One of his neurosurgeons said his paintings look like the wiring of his brain. It’s not symmetric. It’s asymmetric.”

Nicholas doesn’t talk much—seizures wiped out whatever progress he reaped from therapy.

“He has such a long delay that if someone asked him if he wanted to play, they would have moved on by the time he finally said, ‘Yes, I want,’ ” his mother said. “But I think he likes the spotlight that his paintings bring him. He likes looking at his paintings, and he enjoys having people having their pictures taken with him.”

Nicholas still remembers his counselors at Camp Rainbow Gold, including Jamie Rivetts and Kris and Rob Cronin. And he still remembers Kristy Pigeon, who taught him to ride therapeutic horses at Sagebrush Arena, and Karen Morrison and her Aquability program.

“He’s a product of the people who have loved him. Without them loving him I’m not sure he could have done what he did,” said Krisann.

Nicholas has found some of the same nonjudgmental attitude in the art world. One gallery owner compared his work to that of a well-known modern artist. Another called the layering he does with a palette knife “significant.” And an art dealer at Art Basel told his mother to “Keep him painting every day.”

“Nicholas is a prolific painter with a breath of real talent, both surprising and exciting,” said James Mancini Heath, the owner of the Heath Gallery. “Each layer of texture and paint is almost spiritual in its communication, luring both art aficionado and novices alike.”

“Some people don’t tolerate imperfection,” said Krisann. “But those who like his paintings are okay with him being imperfect and that’s so special.”


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