Local resident Sam Morris created artwork he calls HEARTSHINE. The artwork stems from emotions Morris felt about recent events and has been put on shirts.

Local resident Sam Morris created artwork he calls HEARTSHINE. The artwork stems from emotions Morris felt about recent events and has been put on shirts.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

West Bloomfield man with autism has artwork featured on shirts

By: Mark Vest | Metro | Published March 20, 2021

WEST BLOOMFIELD — People around the world turn to art as a way to express their emotions.

West Bloomfield resident Sam Morris is a local example of someone who has used his creativity as a cathartic outlet.

Morris has been diagnosed with autism, and more than five years ago, he became involved with the Soul Center in West Bloomfield, which is an art studio that encourages artistic self-expression for adults with special needs.

Morris, 29, said it has been a lot of fun to have an artistic outlet. However, sometimes art can result from personal or world events that aren’t necessarily happy topics.

Over the past year, Morris has lived in a world in which COVID-19 is a reality and where violence broke out at the nation’s Capitol.

“Both events have broken my heart,” he said.

Morris opted to translate that into artistic expression.

He sat down to draw, and what resulted was something he calls “HEARTSHINE.”

“It was hard when the events came and helpful when I did some (artwork) to express my concerns, or to give people an idea across all the United States about how I’ve been feeling,” Morris said.

Royal Oak resident Adam LaVoy came to know Morris through the Soul Center, where he has worked as a director.

Morris recalled that LaVoy wanted to open a business in which art designs were put on T-shirts and decided to reach out to him about having that done for his “HEARTSHINE” creation.

LaVoy agreed, which led to Morris’ artwork being the first to be featured on peopleloveart.com in February.

“Sam’s design is on T-shirts and sweatshirts, and that is kind of an example, a business model, of People Love Art,” LaVoy said. “When Sam first created it, it was a pencil drawing. … Sam and I worked on the drawing remotely. … I can provide some industry expertise and finalize his artwork into that print-ready format, but all the art, that’s all Sam’s work.”

LaVoy described People Love Art as an initiative and website aimed at providing a voice and means of income for people with disabilities.

“Part of what we’re trying to do, aside from income, is provide a platform for expression,” he said. “A lot (of) times, people with disabilities, their identity is sort of tied up in that one aspect of who they are, but not really by choice.”

LaVoy said profits from People Love Art are split 50/50 with artists. However, all profits generated from HEARTSHINE shirts are set to be donated to the Anti-Defamation League.

Morris shared his thoughts about the toughest part of going through the pandemic.

“Understanding how it was like a deadly disease, that so many people have lost their lives due to this event,” he said. “This is the reason why they have to physical distance with masks.”

Morris also discussed what the events that took place at the Capitol were like for him.

“This is a time when COVID-19 was raging, and the Capitol being attacked, windows destroyed, was, it was so hurtful for my autism,” he said. “(I) felt even more isolated at that time. I was so shocked. People were fighting and spreading hate across the country.”

LaVoy expects Morris’ artwork to be one of many that will be featured on peopleloveart.com.

People with any kind of disability — physical, developmental or intellectual, along with those who have dealt with cognitive decline or have a mental illness, including anxiety disorder — can submit art.

Aside from artistic collaboration, LaVoy has also gotten to know Morris as a person.

“He isn’t out there delivering speeches to convince a bunch of other people to march — he just started marching,” LaVoy said. “He was like, ‘If people are working to spread hate, that means people work to spread love, and how can I do that?’ … The realization of the type of leader that Sam is and is becoming for this movement for people like Sam, who traditionally don’t have a voice, for me, it couldn’t be more of an honor to work side-by-side, or rather behind, somebody like that.”

Morris’ objective is to “battle hate and spread love.”

He discussed the message he wants his artwork to relay.

“Love each other,” Morris said. “We can be better people. … When the pandemic ends or CDC says we can start gathering again or that it’s safe to do physical love is when I’m wanting a very big, long hug.”