Annabelle Gross doesn’t need to look too far to find the inspiration for many of her art creations.
Gross, a 17-year-old junior at The Chicago Academy for the Arts, has a truly special bond with her brother who has autism, Alex, 19. She expresses her love for him through art, whether it’s a video and animation compilation from their yearly trips to Disney World or a “candy brick” that Annabelle made from a foam brick and Smarties after Alex kept talking about the idea.
“I draw a lot of inspiration from him and inspiration from our memories together,” said Gross, a Wilmette resident. “He’s been an instrumental figure in terms of me growing as a person.”
Gross’ mother, Deb, said her daughter has wanted to be an artist since she was 6 years old and “has never diverted from this path.” As a child, she expressed herself artistically by winding trails of Scotch tap into mazes around the house to making sculptures from objects she found outside the family’s home. Deb Gross noted that one of Annabelle’s projects was spawned after Alex would tell her both true and fictional stories, and then the pair drew those stories on paper cubes together.
“He loved seeing whatever stories he could come up with, real or imagined, come to life through their illustrations,” Deb Gross said.
Gross also makes art in the air as a circus arts performer with the Evanston-based Actors Gymnasium Teen Ensemble.
Gross will be part of the upcoming Spring Youth Circus Performance at the Actors Gymnasium on May 12-13 and May 19-20.
Gross sees no difference from performing in the air, or creating art on paper or film.
“It’s important for me to bring things to life,” she said.
Gross attended New Trier High School through her freshman year but decided to transfer to The Academy because she wanted to attend a school that would allow her highly intensive arts instruction. Margy Stover, Chair of the Visual Arts Department at The Academy, said The Academy “has given Annabelle space and to be herself.”
“She can be so serious and then the next minute be really silly in a smart and hilarious way -- she makes teaching fun and her attitude and enthusiasm are super influential to her peers and she brings people together,” Stover said. “When there is much talk now about how the arts teach and build empathy, the content of Annabelle’s work starts with and is about empathy.”
Gross said that much of that empathy comes from the love she has of her brother.
“It’s important to have someone that I love around the house,” she said. “I just want to make things that connect me to other people. That could be my brother, or it could be a stranger. … I just have a lot of love for him.”