Lefens, Tim 1953-

views updated

Lefens, Tim 1953-


Born December 7, 1953, in Detroit, MI; son of Marvin (a civil engineer) and Joyce (a teacher at a nursing hospital) Lefens. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: Virginia Commonwealth University, B.F.A., 1977; Rutgers University, graduate study. Politics: Libertarian.


Home and office—c/o Artistic Realizations Technologies, 11 Whippoorwill Way, Belle Meade, NJ 08502. Agent—Cullen Stanley, Janklow & Nesbitt, 445 Park Ave., New York, NY 10022. E-mail—[email protected].


Artistic Realizations Technologies, Belle Meade, NJ, founder and executive director, 1995—. Painter and art teacher; other jobs included work as tree cutter and house painter.


Community Health Leadership Award, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 1998; Pollack-Krasner Award for painting; award from New Jersey Council for the Humanities; training award from American Association of Mental Retardation.


Flying Colors: The Story of a Remarkable Group of Artists and the Transcendent Power of Art, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 2002.

Contributor to books, including Me to We: Turning Self-Help on Its Head, John Wiley and Sons Canada, 2004.

Lefens's book has been translated into Chinese.


Tim Lefens discovered his love of painting while he was growing up in New Jersey, when he befriended the son of American pop artist Roy Fox Lichtenstein (1923-1997), who would become Lefens's first mentor. Lefens later majored in art at college and lived most of his life after college in a bohemian mode, taking odd jobs to pay his rent but devoting most of his time to abstract painting.

Unfortunately, Lefens was struck with a terrible disease that affected his eyesight. Instead of wallowing in self-pity as his vision deteriorated, he turned his attention to other people who were experiencing serious physical and psychological challenges in their lives. After being invited to exhibit his paintings at a New Jersey teaching hospital near his home, Lefens suggested to the director that he would like to teach art classes there. He had witnessed the limiting effects of some of the arts and crafts classes patients were receiving and was angered at the lack of autonomy students had. He wanted to introduce techniques that would bring them total control in their art. His experiences with these patients and the resulting development of his nonprofit organization, which facilitated the continuation of his dream, are the foundations of his first book, Flying Colors: The Story of a Remarkable Group of Artists and the Transcendent Power of Art.

Flying Colors tells the story of the organization called Artistic Realization Technologies, a nonprofit organization founded by Lefens through which systems are created that enable the uncompromised creative self-expression of people with the most severe physical challenges. The people whom this organization helps often cannot use either their hands or their voices. Lefens believed that by providing a means for his students to be able to truly express themselves through art, he provides them with, as stated on the Art Realization Technologies Web site, "a critical means of articulate self-expression."

Lefens's book, according to Gillian Engberg in Booklist, is "a deeply moving account of overcoming limitations." It is also about the "power of skilled creative expression." The book tells the story of Lefens's own development and struggles as an artist as well as his involvement with his students, but the overall focus of the book is the transformative power of art. Although Lefens had devoted his life to art, it was not until he began teaching that he realized how artistic expression could liberate those who created the paintings. "He never witnessed [art's] truly transcendent power," wrote Matthew Purdy for the New York Times, "until he began teaching painting … to severely physically disabled students—people paralyzed in wheelchairs, exiled from a world that assumes those who can barely communicate have nothing to say." Lefens discovered that they indeed had a lot to say, and they said it best when they were allowed to open their imaginations and let their thoughts flow out through the medium of paint on canvas.

Lefens's technique was to fit his students with laser pointers, attached to bands on their heads. Through a detailed list of questions, which students could answer with a simple "yes" or "no" and an assistant who would apply the exact amount and color of paint to the exact place on the canvas with the exact brush stroke that the student requested, Lefens taught his students to express their inner emotions without using either their voice or their hands. The results were paintings that were so exciting that Lefens found places for them to be exhibited in the city, where they were admired by art lovers, with some of them being bought for hundreds or thousands of dollars. However, it was not the money that brought enthusiasm but rather the changes that were occurring in his students. As Carol J. Binkowski for Library Journal put it: "This is a story of courage and possibilities."

Lefens once told CA: "I write best at night or on rainy days. I gather extensive numbers of particular incidences in the form of a list of bullets, then group them, rearrange them, then dive into the writing in a stream of consciousness sort of way, then work carefully to pare away superfluous language."

Lefens later told CA: "I loved reading so much, I thought it would be a natural extension to try writing. Being a painter before a writer, visuals influence my writing far more than dialogue. When I begin writing, I sketch out the entire first draft without any attention to structure. I just let things I feel like writing about come out, like I'm talking enthusiastically, unselfconsciously to a friend. The most surprising thing I learned as a writer is that writing held up a mirror to the deepest flaws in my character."



Booklist, August, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of Flying Colors: The Story of a Remarkable Group of Artists and the Transcendent Power of Art, p. 1897.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2002, review of Flying Colors, p. 859.

Library Journal, August, 2002, Carol J. Binkowski, review of Flying Colors, p. 86.

New York Times, May 23, 2001, Matthew Purdy, "You Don't Need Hands to Paint, or Eyes to Inspire," p. B1.

Publishers Weekly, June 24, 2002, review of Flying Colors, p. 49.

Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), September 10, 1996, Andrea Alexander, "Triumph of the Spirit; Matheny School Students Unleash the Power of Their Creativity," p. O31.


Art Realization Technologies Web site,http://www.artrealization.org/ (December 9, 2002), "Who We Are."