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At the Bockley: ‘Natural born artist’ Dietrich Sieling shows why his work is drawing so much attention

The originality of Minneapolis artist Dietrich Sieling’s drawings is startling: fans, garden hoses, light bulbs and refrigerators abound, side-by-side with zebras, giraffes and kudu.

Dietrich Sieling's "Okapis"
Courtesy of Bockley Gallery
Sieling’s “Okapis,” 2008, 8.5 by 12 inches, marker, color pencil and graphite on paper.

The originality of Minneapolis artist Dietrich Sieling’s drawings is startling: fans, garden hoses, light bulbs and refrigerators abound, side-by-side with zebras, giraffes and kudu. His drawings are marked by their intricate pattern-work, a conjunction of human and animal forms, and his wonderfully weird play with perspective and text. Sieling’s work is passing strange, unrefined and just crazy beautiful.

His new solo show, “Giraffe-man,” opens Saturday (March 7) at the Bockley Gallery in Minneapolis.

In many ways, the artist’s vivid works on paper feel too fully realized, too consistent in their visual motifs and artistic vision, to be the work of someone just 21 years old. (Click here to see more of his drawings.)

Even more unusual for one so early in his career, Sieling’s artwork has already sparked the interest of prominent art collectors and garnered a fair amount of positive critical attention.

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Here’s another piece of intriguing information: The artist was diagnosed with autism at age 3. When asked about a possible relationship between his unusual creative vision and his disability, both gallery proprietor Todd Bockley and the artist’s mother, filmmaker Shelli Ainsworth, are quick to insist that Sieling’s artwork should be considered on its own terms.

Ainsworth says, “His disability has made it more difficult, sometimes, to find a place where Dietrich could pursue his arts education; but his artwork isn’t a product of his autism. If anything, coming into his own as an artist has helped Dietrich overcome the confines of his disability. It has given him a home in a community of other artists and a powerful way to communicate what he has to say.” She goes on to say unequivocally, “He’s an artist first.”

Bockley echoes her, saying, “Dietrich’s autism isn’t what interests me. His work grabbed my attention before I knew anything about his personal history. Last year Carmichael Lynch presented an exhibition of his drawings at Intermedia Arts. I was immediately taken with his work. I knew, the moment I saw it, that this was an artist I’d want to work with.”

“His disability is beside the point,” Bockley says. “This is a natural-born artist.”

Updated: Click below to watch a clip of footage from the film-in-progress “Stay Then Go,” a loosely autobiographical screenplay by Ainsworth which will be produced later this year.

Dietrich Sieling’s solo exhibition, “Giraffe-man,” will be on view through April 4 at Bockley Gallery in Minneapolis.