By Wilma Davidson, Sarasota Branch
Diana de Avila of the Sarasota Branch is one of only 340 people in the world to have Acquired Savant Syndrome (a person who has suffered a traumatic brain injury and afterwards emerges incredibly talented in art, music, or math). Her remarkable and explosive digital artistic ability emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, one balmy summer evening in 2017.
De Avila didn’t have an interest or skills in art. Her earlier careers included being an U.S. Army military policewoman, an entrepreneur, and a web architect at GE. However, she developed multiple sclerosis (MS) and other health conditions associated with a brain injury, requiring her to take early retirement. It was soon after an MS exacerbation in 2017 that her as-yet undiscovered talent and desire to create overtook her.
“I was resting in the pool. I remember a menagerie of colors, a kaleidoscope sitting right in front of my nose,” de Avila recalls. “I squinted my eyes the way you squeeze them when you’ve looked at the sun too long. I opened them wide, squeezed them shut, opened again. No matter how many times I did that, the colors were still there.”
She got out of the pool, dried herself off, and felt very, very different.
“I felt a compulsion to create something from the colors swimming in front of my face. I began to see colors as distinct shapes (something I learned later was synesthesia, a condition that can accompany Acquired Savant Syndrome),” de Avila explains. “These colors, these shapes seemed to beg me to exist in the real world. I became beholden to the shapes and colors as they demanded an audience beyond myself.”
She downloaded dozens of programs for illustrators on her computer without knowing a thing about how to use them. Thus, her unique “hyper-reality” was born. Her palette became a multitude of software programs, which she taught herself to use remarkably fast. For each of her digital pieces, de Avila uses from seven to 30 different programs.
“My art was rooted in fractal geometry before I even knew what a fractal was,” she says.
Fractals are infinitely repeating patterns or shapes. In the 1970s, mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot studied these repeating shapes that replicate themselves on every scale — and fractal geometry was born.
Since she acquired her gift in 2017, de Avila has created over 700 pieces of digital art with absolutely no formal training.