Roogs Art – My artistic journey with Down Syndrome

By Michell Svesve

I am Andrew “Roogs” Arkwright, I have amazing eyes, an infectious laugh and I always know when you need a hug. I may have Down Syndrome but Down Syndrome does not have me. 

When you meet Andrew for the first time you realise that he is nothing short of an inspiration. All the aforementioned traits best express who he is and he manages to translate this gorgeously in his artwork. 

Andrew learnt how to draw from a tender age. After realising that he had a passion for Art, his mother, Tess Arkwright, would always hand him a drawing pad and pencils to draw objects and elements that fascinated him on their way to different travel destinations within Zimbabwe. Of all the destinations, being within different African Bush Camps enchanted him the most. His love of nature both big and small have been the main inspiration behind his drawings. This interest showcases how he interprets the world from his special perspective. 

His art pieces are characterised by vibrant colours that depict how he views nature. His references focus on wild animals in African Bush camps and he also does insect and smaller animal drawings. He enjoys tending to the garden in his backyard and he regularly sits in the centre of it all, listening to the enchanting sounds and gazing around for any sign of life. Andrew attends art classes twice a week, where his mentor and mother’s great friend, Rosanne Tanmer, helps him perfect his artistic skills. Rosanne has played a major role in encouraging Andrew’s technique of drawing. She consistently encourages him to stay true to his signature styles. Regardless of the size and nature of the animal, Andrew captures the subject’s form in a non-conventional pencil drawing manner. He sometimes uses oils in his work, for example, in his favourite butterfly selection which is currently sold out.  His semi-abstract drawings evoke happiness and tranquillity. They are clean, clear and precise.

To date, Andrew has a collection of butterflies, owls, zebras, rhinos, warthogs, elephants, crocodiles, chameleons, giraffes, just to mention a few. As an advocate for conservation, Andrew has done some art pieces in support of the ‘Save the Rhino’ movement. He has also done a few owl designs, together with his best friend Carly to help raise owl awareness, save their habitats, build nesting and roosting boxes for them to stay in. Andrew is currently doing a collaboration with a school in Kenya, where they approached him to help design t-shirts to raise awareness on how climate change has led to the depletion of over 14% of the world’s coral reefs. As such, he has been working on fish, seahorse, crabs and squid drawings to help bring that to light. He actively participates in conservation events by contributing his art pieces, making designs for campaigns and printing t-shirts for sale and donation. 

Andrew takes pleasure in being busy all the time. He dislikes sitting still and not doing anything. Consequently, his mother is always on the lookout for new exciting projects they can participate in. Just recently they made school bag designs, shopping bags, t-shirts and placemats. From the pencil in Andrew’s hand to the bag or t-shirt in a customer’s hand, the manufacturing process is a long one that mother and son enjoy working together in. There is never a dull moment in their house. 

Tess has been a pillar in Andrew’s life. She has always believed in his capabilities and she appreciates how he manages to bring out the” extra” in extraordinary in his own distinct way. Andrew has faced a number of complications because of his condition. Within the early years of his life, Andrew was diagnosed with Eye Astigmatism, an imperfection in the curvature of his eyes. Optometrists advised Tess to buy Andrew glasses to help him see better, however they brought him more challenges than expected. His vision became blurry, making it difficult for him to play and walk properly. Noticing these added problems, Tess decided to let Andrew live his life without the glasses since they caused more pain than comfort. The way he sees the world is what inspires his artwork, taking that original vision from him and trying to enhance or alter it would have disrupted his artistic style and expression. Years later, Andrew has managed to start his own brand of art that we have easily fallen in love with, because of how his vision works naturally. 

Andrew is very confident in himself. He takes pride in who he is and he does not let any impediments hinder him from forming lifelong relationships. He has managed to make good friends over the years through his travelling and his work. One of his notable good friends is the late Patrick Rooney, who he met in Mana Pools. They instantly connected and a formidable bond was created between them. They would travel together and Mana Pools became their regular meeting spot. Andrew loves Sport and he has had the pleasure of brushing shoulders with some notable athletes, namely Tendai “The Beast” Mtwarira and the entire Springboks team.

1 in every 600 babies is prone to be born with Down Syndrome, regardless of their gender and race. Having tried to head an organisation of her own in support of parents and children with Down Syndrome, Tess was disappointed to have to dissolve it because there was not enough support towards the cause. Knowing that Andrew exists and so do many other great, talented people with Down Syndrome in our country, it is important to show them support and applaud them for being strong individuals that celebrate who they are. Andrew is an inspiration to all of us. He truly embodies hard work, talent and self-confidence.

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