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Dominic Killiany’s ‘What I See’ exudes exuberance

At Cambridge Arts Council’s Gallery 344, the artist, who lives with autism, shows original paintings of a beloved bridge, street signs, and animals.

Dominic Killiany, “Abstract Safari Cats,” acrylic paint on canvas.Dominic Killiany

Last year the Cambridge Arts Council made murals out of several paintings by Dominic Killiany, an artist who lives with autism, and installed them at Louis A. DePasquale Universal Design Playground at Danehy Park. Universal Design aims to create spaces that welcome people of all abilities.

Killiany’s original paintings now veritably burst off the walls in “What I See” at Cambridge Arts Council’s Gallery 344. The patterned, color-saturated images depict the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge, street signs, and animals.

The artist, 25, is mostly nonverbal, his mother notes in the gallery’s press release. He has been drawing and painting since he was a toddler. He later started experimenting with paint-by-numbers. His original pieces use a similar system: Working from a photograph, he builds a line drawing from interlocking shapes and adds color. Two drawings are on view, so intricate and dense it’s hard to discern what the subjects are. Add red, orange, and yellow, and voilà, the Zakim Bridge.

Dominic Killiany, “Zakim Bridge at Night,” acrylic paint on canvas.Dominic Killiany

Killiany’s subject matter and loose, patterned-based style recall that of other artists who didn’t go to art school (a genre that has been variously called Art Brut, Outsider Art, and folk art) such as William Hawkins and Thornton Dial. As a teen, he was inspired by the impressionistic paintings of Leonid Afremov.


Wall text notes that Killiany likes to squeeze out entire tubes of paint. It’s as thick and luscious as fudge sauce in some works. Colors spark against one another, igniting his canvases with sunshiny warmth. Even the more monochromatic ones, like “Zakim Bridge at Night,” or “Blue Moon,” in which orbs hang in an electric blue sky and reflect in water below, hum with high-keyed color.

Dominic Killiany, “Blue Moon,” acrylic paint on canvas.Dominic Killiany

Undergirded by paint-by-numbers-type drawings, the paintings are dense with pattern yet coalesce into pictures. Felines are a favorite theme, and numbers pop up even in paint. “Sphinx Cats” vibrates in shades of blue and green; the animals have numbers on their eyes and noses. A striped tiger fills the center of “Abstract Safari Cats,” and the surrounding big cats have angular pupils, or ones that ripple with concentric circles. The animals seem to morph into landscape shapes. The effect is hallucinogenic.


There’s an exuberance to Killiany’s work. He expresses so much here — his passions, his obsessions, the ordinary scenes of his life — not in words, but in paint.


At Gallery 344, Cambridge Arts Council, City Hall Annex, 344 Broadway, Cambridge, through Aug. 31.

Cate McQuaid can be reached at