“Nobody wanted to give me a chance so I gave myself one.”
A photo story about a young autistic artist who turned his hobby into a business.
Uver is 25 years old, loves Mangas, action and sci-fi movies, his guitar, Japanese vending machines, dragons, and his phone. Even though he tried, no business out there was willing to give him a chance. A chance to show that he is capable of doing regular work and therefore live the life he deserves to live.
That’s when he decided to give himself a chance and with the help of his amazing mother and sister, he turned his hobby into a business.
A left at the entrance, second aisle to the right -- that’s where you will find Uver and his mom, Maria, every other Saturday from 11 to 5. Since February 2020 they’ve held a stand at the Los Feliz flea market in Los Angeles showcasing and selling Uver’s art through his brand "Vers Imagination". From shirts, bags, and beanies to hats and keychains -- Uver's drawings adorn all kinds of clothes and accessories.Inspired by Manga comics, Uver has found a way to open up his heart on paper. His process is holistic and led by his own imagination which he translates onto paper as the ideas come. Born in Los Angeles with Salvadorian roots, Uver is a warm and kind 25-year-old, curious about the world and his surroundings. He is the kind of person who can watch one movie over and over
again, without getting bored. He has a fascination with Japan, and in particular Japanese vending machines because as Uver put it to me “you can get all kinds of stuff from them”. He tells me his dream is to travel to Japan, although he adds he’s “not into the food at all”.
Uver is a straight talker; he lets you know what he likes and dislikes and doesn’t need anyone to put words into his mouth. I got to know him as a great listener, attentive, and with a clear point of view. When he’s not drawing he likes to play the guitar, hang out with his cat, Melly, play video games, watch action and sci-fi movies, and drift away on his phone -- much like any other typical 25-year-old.
THE START OF "VERS IMAGINATION"
Despite working for multiple employers in LA while he was in school (Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, TJ Max, Bowling Center) no one was willing to hire him as a full-on employee after he graduated. While we were hanging out in his family’s backyard, Uver shared that he was often treated in disrespectful ways and taken advantage of as a worker. “They paid me two bucks an hour”, he tells me. Uver tried his hand at a variety of fields from cooking, to retail, to organizing, each time trying his best to fit in, but to no avail. People in positions of leadership would already have their mindset, presuming he’s not capable and can’t work like a “normal” person. Unfortunately, people make assumptions too quickly and only look out for their own profit. The only thing Uver ever wanted was a chance. A chance to have a normal life, a chance to show that he in fact is capable of doing regular work and can be treated like a regular employee -- so he can live the life he deserves.
“Nobody wanted to give me a chance so I gave myself one,” Uver explains and thus, "Vers Imagination" was born. With the help of his amazing mom, Maria, and sister, Breese, he turned his hobby into a business. In this family project, everyone has a part to play and a task to complete. During my visit, it was inventory time; Uver counts the products, Breese updates the website and stock sheet, meanwhile, Maria folds the clothes and packs the products into the boxes.
"Welcome to my world of wonder & imagination. Art is the way I express myself as an Autistic Artist. I let my mind be creative & take control."
Uver started drawing over a decade ago only but launched his brand 'Vers Imagination' in 2019. It’s been a real artist’s life so far - sometimes he makes as many as 300 sales per week through his online shop, sometimes zero. “We never gave up, we kept going, no matter what,” his mom Maria says. “It’s Uver’s thing, but we want to give him value, show him that what he does has meaning, and support him wherever we can.” His family is not the only place Uver has found support, lovers of Uver’s work now travel hours just to meet him at Los Feliz flea in Los Angeles and buy his art.
Through getting to know Uver I learned that Autism looks different for everyone. It is thought of as a spectrum because there is wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms people experience. Uver is on the higher end of the spectrum or as he likes to say he is "mature". However, many people wouldn't notice the challenges that Uver faces unless they closely observe or hold a conversation with him. Uver is very self-aware but lacks some social skills around communication and recognizing social cues. It can be these unapparent, or invisible obstacles of Autism, that make it hard for people to understand why he acts and speaks the way he does - this can affect his safety. "It was much easier when he was younger. People would excuse more and didn't take certain behaviors so serious", says his older sister Breese. But as he grows older and becomes a man it can be very dangerous for him to go out on his own. And Uver really wants to do that! He would love to live like a grown-up and walk around the neighborhood without having to fear for his safety.
Uver’s family has found that the best way to allow Uver to be more independent while keeping him safe, is having a service dog. A service dog would help him in so many ways, Uver would be able to interact with people more confidently and work on his social skills, as well as with other challenges like stimming in public, which is a form of calming himself during over-stimulation or anxiety. Additionally, it would allow people to understand that he is different without having to actually explain. Maria and Breese believe that there are so many benefits that a service dog would bring Uver, not only for his safety but also for his mental health. Uver enjoys spending time alone and a service dog would give him a companion he would be happy to be around. He also struggles with irregular schedules and it would help him maintain a routine.