Teen artist living with Down syndrome defies expectations after three gallery showings

Emmett Kyoshi Wilson is 15 years old but already has had his artwork featured in galleries and sold across the country. 

Wilson was born with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder caused by an extra chromosome. When he was four years old, Emmett’s parents, Kathy and Paul Wilson, noticed that he was having some difficulty writing. That’s when Kathy got the idea to swap a pencil for a paintbrush. Now Emmett uses his art to communicate and raise money for charitable organizations in the process. 

“With this talent, the minute he was given these tools, he’s just taken over,” Kathy told In The Know. “Down syndrome to me is just one little part of who Emmett really is.” 

Kathy believes Emmett is emblematic of what people with Down syndrome can do as opposed to what others might expect.

“I like to paint because I dream. I feel, like, a passion,” Emmett told In The Know. “I feel proud.” 

When Kathy first shared his artwork on Facebook, there was a huge positive response. It inspired the family to start showing Emmett’s work at galleries and selling it online. He has since had three official gallery shows. The last one in 2019 raised money for the Jackson Chance Foundation, which provides parking passes to families of NICU babies.

Paul, who is a painter himself, sees how Emmett infuses his personality and point of view into his artwork. 

“His view of the world is just the most refreshing thing,” Paul told In The Know. “He lives in the moment and I think that shows up in his artwork. He’s a gift to our family.” 

The father described his colorful, abstract paintings as having a certain “simplicity” and “clarity of thought,” right from the start. 

“Watching Emmett paint, I mean, we feel proud. It’s just fluid poetry and expression,” Paul said.

One of his pieces features a purple paint splatter with the phrase “Why Fit In When We Are Born to Stand Out,” while another is a school lunch rendering called “Mom’s Packed Lunch.” 

But ultimately Emmett’s work is about using art to communicate, whether it’s about how he’s feeling or to send the message that people like him defy expectations every day. 

“Getting Emmett’s art out to the public and always including Down syndrome links, being able to talk to people, to show what you do is amazing,” Kathy told In The Know. “You inspire me.” 

Check out In The Know’s video on Jiya Day, the 20-year-old TikToker using the app to share her experience with cerebral palsy.

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