Michael Madore

as told to Deeanna Franklin

"His Dummee" (magic marker on paper, 1979)



Michael Madore, who has Asperger's Syndrome (a form of autism), started to draw maps and diagrams as a child in order to corroborate increasingly specialized interests that began with geography and culminated by the age of twelve with an obsession with office market vacancy rates.

As a teen he took refuge in cartoons, radio playlists, mechanical drawing, and weather statistics. In college he majored in art history, focusing on medieval manuscript illumination and nineteenth century artists/illustrators such as William Dadd, Victor Hugo, and Grandville.

After graduating in 1977, Madore moved to New York where he first began to consciously make "art" while remaining on the periphery of the emerging East Village art scene. He moved to New Haven in 1983 and for nearly a decade he continued to work in relative isolation, teaching himself to paint while meticulously creating and cataloging a world populated by the likes of King Charles (who had the ability to render himself invisible or to take on animal forms), the Sirenians (a quasi scientific/monastic tribe of nervous, absentminded "researchers and sensors"), and innumerable forest, aquatic, and space entities. In 1987, while hospitalized at Yale-New Haven Hospital, he took the advice of his psychiatrist and entered the Yale MFA painting program. After graduating in 1990, Madore moved back to New York where he has continued painting and drawing while working as a medical editor, proofreader, and writer on topics ranging from synesthesia, tics, and ikebana.

"The Ladder" (oil on canvas 42" x 42")

 I have an autistic disorder, and I tend to be very literal. So when my psychiatrist at Yale-New Haven Hospital suggested I apply to the Yale University School of Art, my response was “Okay.” I thought he was talking about a day treatment program!

I have to admit, when I got accepted I didn't really think it was a big deal until I saw how seriously the other students were taking the whole thing. I mainly saw it as an opportunity to do research in cartography, which is a subject I've been strongly interested in since I was a kid. Cartography and drawing were my way of coping. By 6, I had memorized all of the islands off the coast of British Columbia, and by the time I was 11 or 12, I was “designing” shopping centers, figuring out the best arrangement of all the retail components. Then when I was a teenager, and even now as an adult, I became obsessed with commercial leasing activity. I have to know office vacancy rates. And not merely in New York City where I live, but nationwide. To this day, I also remain obsessed with blueprints and any kind of technical drawing, since they neutralize the threat posed by full dimensionality. I got a full scholarship to go to Trinity College [in Hartford, Conn.], where I started off majoring in architecture, and ended up in art history, and then in English because I had some time to kill and thought psychoanalytical literary theory would magically explain social behavior. I had always been very anxious about hidden agendas and reading between the lines. I graduated with a dual degree in art history and English. I was going to go and get my master's in English, but I knew, without knowing the name of it, that I was incapable of this. I couldn't write more extended and logically consistent academic types of papers, so I had to abandon a university career. I didn't even know how to shake hands until after college.

"Eye raffle" (ink & acrilyc on paper, 25 x 10", 2000)

"Dolores" (mixed media on paper, 19x25", 2001)

Cartography and drawing are my way of coping with Asperger's Syndrome. As a kid, I was diagnosed with everything else but that. My AS is comorbid with Tourette's and ADHD. I use art to try to figure out how to communicate in ways that other people seem to take for granted. One of my recent drawings, “Eye Raffle,” was done specifically to help me clarify the problem of the logistics of eye contact. This was very hard to do, because I've always felt eye contact is so arbitrary—when you look at someone and how long you look at someone and how you return a gaze. It seems like a raffle.

The pieces that were on display at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore were newer and reflected my obsession with opiates. Mercifully, I was not a good addict. All I take now is Adderall. I used to take anxiolytics, but my doctors stopped that because of the potential for working me back into opiates. When it comes to medication, I usually have the opposite reaction to what's expected. Pot was like an amphetamine. Cocaine makes me sleepy. Some anxiolytics would actually make me “hyper.” I used heroin because it would shut down the sensory overload. Anxiety is still my biggest issue. I spend a lot of time trying to tone down a lot of conflicting sensory information. I am acutely aware of noise.

I am perpetually trying to figure out, “Am I hearing something? Am I overhearing the sounds of my cats? Am I over interpreting?” Heroin quieted this internal interrogation, and it helped me retain a certain functionality. For me, Adderall works as an antidepressant in addition to calming and focusing me in terms of executive function. Drawing forces me to coordinate my senses, and it helps me cope with my illness. It allows me to “remap” myself, in a sense.

" Butler service" (ink on paper, 25 x 19", 1999)

I've always been obsessed with diagrams. I have a problem with volume and dimensionality, the sense of moving through space, which manifests itself in a kind of motor clumsiness and an obsession with symmetry. I constantly feel compelled to center or “arrange” myself in whatever space I'm in. To help overcome this I joined a gym, which helped. I started going to dance performances, but then I started becoming obsessed with the history of dance. I even considered becoming a dance critic, but I knew there was no way I could verbalize physical movement except in a disjointed, rambling manner. Plus, I'd never match faces with names, and [would] thereby incur the wrath of equally high-strung, creative types. I was just part of a big autism study, and for part of it they test reflexes, and [the researchers] would say “pull,” and I didn't know how to translate that into the proper body movement. I kept doing the opposite, and [the researcher] kept getting really frustrated. I was trying, but I didn't understand how you'd pull your leg out. It's the same with choreography. I don't understand how a person can translate a verbal command into physical action. Autism is like continually mistranslating or getting stuck on a missing link or conjunction.


"Trapped" (enamel/magic marker on paper, 1979)

Curiously, the one group who has been the least supportive of my diagnosis is my artist friends. I think they feel the most threatened. And I agree to some extent, because it seems that the very concept of creativity is becoming medicalized. I agree with Lawrence Osborne and his book, “American Normal: The Hidden World of Asperger Syndrome.” He worries that we are medicalizing creativity to the point where it becomes a diagnostic cluster of symptoms. Years ago, it was theorized that perhaps the creative process itself is linked to a kind of bipolar disorder. And I think when people now hear autism, it really freaks them out, because now Virginia Woolf has turned into Rain Man—and I'm assuming it's not a pretty picture.

I don't see my condition as a stigma at all. Ever since I was little, I was used to being way out on the periphery in order to attain safe and critical distance. I was very good with language, so I was able to bluff myself out of many potentially bad situations by sweet-talking potential adversaries into oblivion. By the time I got to college, it was okay to be in your own world; everyone was specializing in the '70s. I don't really feel threatened or compromised by people pathologizing me, or turning me into a case study, or trying to force a causality, or a 1:1 correspondence between my work and my autism.

"Busy bodies" (enamel/ magic marker on paper, 1979)


This article has been published previously under a slightly different form in the Clinical Psychiatry News, January 2004 http://www.eclinicalpsychiatrynews.com                                 Courtesy the artist


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