Kent’s autistic savant artist attracting a large audience

Michael Tolleson has discovered more places, people and possibilities through his spontaneously created art.

Michael Tolleson

Michael Tolleson has discovered more places, people and possibilities through his spontaneously created art.

All for the purpose of bringing greater awareness to and support for autism.

Kent’s autistic savant artist is in great demand these days for his paintings. Through his attractive downtown gallery to his strong social media presence, the 57-year-old Tolleson is gaining a worldwide audience.

“I’m a vessel that holds a gift. I cannot be credited for what I’m doing because it’s something that channels through the autism,” Tolleson said. “There’s a light within all of us. I didn’t find mine until my 50s. Who knows when they find their’s? The thing is that the light within us is worth waiting for and recognizing and nurturing.”

Tolleson’s paintings offer hope and inspiration to others in the autistic community.

Appearing recently at a private showing in Santa Fe, N.M., Tolleson met two families who had travelled more than 200 miles just to hear him speak and watch him paint.

“It’s humbling to know that’s something you have no power over has so much power in the world,” he said.

Tolleson takes in the tone of a landscape, a person or a situation, and in one hour or less exhales an inspiring piece. Acrylic, his medium of choice, allows him finish a work even before the paint has dried.

The resulting oil-like painting is revealing, impressionistic.

It’s a gift he struggles to explain.

“I don’t even know what I’m doing,” he said. “When I start the canvas, I don’t know what it’s going to look like when I finish, but I know it’s always right.

“I’m blessed with something,” he said. “It’s a gift housed inside this vessel.”

Others have taken notice.

Tolleson’s career has blossomed in such a short time, garnering national and worldwide attention from the autistic art community. Galleries – local and beyond, including Polly’s Place in London – have embraced his emotion-based paintings.

And many organizations and causes want some of his time.

Tolleson is a guest at a celebrity-filled benefit, Temple Grandin & Friends, in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Grandin, a top scientist who has become an icon in the autistic community, invited Tolleson to paint live on the Club Nokia stage, with proceeds from his auctioned works supporting the Autism Works Now effort.

Tolleson will speak and paint at the Autism Society National Conference in Denver in July. He also will appear at the Love & Autism Conference in San Diego in September, when he will create a painting to be used as a backdrop for a wedding.

Plans are to attend an autism event in Siberia in November.

“Its crazy,” Tolleson said of his itinerary. “I’m having the best time of my life giving to others.”

As popular as his work has become on the national and global scene, Tolleson would like to become a bigger presence locally.

He recently painted at an event that benefitted the Communities in Schools of Kent event. His gallery, with the support of his partner, Jack Carl Anderson, also an autistic artist, has become a classroom for others.

Tolleson wants to share his gift with others. People are always telling him, he says, that his paintings give hope, inspiration and light to the autistic community, especially to youth and families living with autism.

Tolleson has donated his work to numerous charitable organizations throughout the country. Such work, he hopes, opens more gateways and inspires more children with autism to believe that they can express themselves through art.

“It’s not about the art, it’s what the art symbolizes,” Tolleson said.

To learn more about Tolleson, his gallery and work, visit

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