Jay Petrow: Parenting Challenges Provide Inspiration For Art, Life

Jay Petrow has had quite a life.

He studied at Middlebury College (with a BA in studio art and biology), the School of Visual Arts, New York Botanical Garden and Silvermine School of Art. He’s both an artist and a landscape designer.

He’s also the father of an autistic son. Today he writes about the joys and challenging of parenting.

Fathering a son with autism has been the most difficult challenge of my life, but it’s also brought me to deep and unexpected places.

William, now 28, was born as perfect and loving as any child. Only when he failed to meet developmental milestones did we begin to wonder if something was amiss.

Unfortunately, our worry proved to be founded. In the many years since then we’ve dealt with William’s repetitive, sometimes merely aggravating, but at other times aggressive behaviors, on a daily basis, often making it a struggle to get through the day.

Jay Petrow, with William.

Yes, there were tremendous highs, such as when my son could finally say, “I love you, Dad.” Or when we would all laugh playing endless hours of UNO with any guest who happened to stop by.

But there were dark days, when William would bang his head against the floor because he was frustrated and had no words to tell us that. Later, there were other days when we had to call the police to help keep us safe from his rage-filled outbursts.

For years my emotions were raw, yet dulled, by the constant vigilance needed to keep William learning and safe. and his behaviors in check.

Eventually, as a survival strategy for my mental health, I returned to creating art as the outlet for expressing my emotions. After graduating with a fine arts major from Middlebury College, I had put aside being an artist to pursue a career in magazine design.

But 32 years later, I needed my art in a new way. This time I wasn’t interested in painting portraits or landscapes — or any real objects–as I had done in my earlier life. Now, I was compelled to explore what was going on inside of me. And there was a lot going on.

That’s how my journey into an abstract expressionist style of painting began. Throwing paint against the canvas and using my fingers and brushes to work the surface was exhilarating for me. Anger, hurt, fear, love and joy poured out of me.

Jay Petrow’s “Relentless” (acrylic on canvas).

Instead of painting inanimate objects, I was now painting who I am. In the moment. I had found meaning in my art, and I had put art back into my life.

My paintings develop on a subconscious level of interaction of my emotions and energy, and visualizing what’s happening on the canvas as I layer on colors and textures. Maintaining a conversation from within and without, the work becomes a place that I inhabit, and if successful, a place that others can venture into as well.

What I discovered about myself was more than just an untapped love for creating abstract paintings. Amazingly, through an often dark and winding path, I discovered the light within me. I will forever be grateful to William for giving me the greatest gift anyone could give: He showed me the light.

Jay Petrow, with “Metamorphosis” (acrylic on canvas).

It is because of my experience with William that I now pursue my art with great passion. I have been to 4 artist residencies over the last couple of years, and I recently took a lease on a studio space in Bridgeport’s American Fabric Arts Building.

As a way to give back to William and all those who support him, I am donating 20 percent of every painting I sell to Abilis (https://www.abilis.us/). Abilis manages the home where William now lives, and provides support and services to over 800 individuals with special needs in Fairfield County. My goal is to donate over $100,000 to Abilis during my lifetime (or afterwards) to help those families that need this kind of support.

I recently sold a large painting to 2 collectors in New Mexico, so the first step in reaching my goal has been taken. To see more of my work click here, jaypetrowfineart.com, or follow me on Instagram or Facebook.

And from now through June 7 you can see my work at 47 Main Street, a gallery for a rotating roster of artists from The Artists Collective of Westport.

10 responses to “Jay Petrow: Parenting Challenges Provide Inspiration For Art, Life

  1. Nick Thompson

    Jay’s native landscapes are also art in their own right, and should be checked out too.

  2. Sandra Long

    Jay and his wife Nancy are both wonderful parents and neighbors ( yes my neighbors!). It is so interesting to read his story and how his parenting connects to his art. Jay is certainly a very creative person and his generosity is to be applauded. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Katherine Bruan

    Everybody loves Jay! A very dear man, who is so talented in so many ways. I love all the Petro’s and William’s sweetness is a testament to his wonderful family.

  4. I admire your courage to change course and follow your bliss. And I enjoy your work Jay. Kudos to the Petrows.

  5. William E. Burrows

    Jay’s father, Richard, hired me to teach journalism at NYU in 1974 and we have been friends and at one time neighbors ever since. I therefore effectively knew Jay when he was practically a babe. And to have watched him grow intellectually and artistically has been one of the great joys of my life and renewed my appreciation for this country and a society that encourages and rewards his kind of supreme creativity, compassion, fortitude and capacity to love his stricken son and others. He is truly exemplary.

    — William E. Burrows

  6. William E. Burrows

    It has already been sent.

  7. Kerstin Rao

    Jay – you are an inspiration!

  8. Adriana Ospina

    What a touching story Jay! As parents of a child with special needs, we are sometimes so overwhelmed with the difficulties raising such a child poses that we forget to look up and “see the light”. You are fortunate to have been able to let William inspire you to create the beautiful art we can see in you work. You are an inspiration to many of us!

  9. Ilse Walton

    A great tribute to William, Jay you and Nancy are terrific parents. You have always shown the “the light side of bringing up a special needs child” You made it look easy, yet there was the other side…..It’s fortunate that your talent allowed you to be able to express your emotions and hardships. Your work is truly amazing.

    Ilse Walton