The Accidental Artist

by Carolyn Edlund

A sudden traumatic accident changed Alder Crocker’s life forever, leaving him with a physical disability and an amazing new creative ability.


Acrylic abstract painting by Alder Crocker

“Hatter’s America” latex on acrylic on canvas, 48” W x 36” H x 2” D


In May of 2018 while vacationing in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Alder Crocker tripped and fell on the beach. During the fall he broke his neck, which left him as a tetraplegic, paralyzed in both arms and legs. Although his physical injury was devastating, he gained an astonishing new ability from it: Sudden Acquired Savant Syndrome.

Before he was injured, Crocker was a marketing executive with no artistic inclination, and describes himself as someone who could only draw stick figures. He would write marketing copy and leave the artwork to others. While in recovery taking art therapy, he experienced continuous rushes of creativity and the desire to express himself through painting. This new ability has manifested itself in his life as a passionate drive to make art. He feels strongly that he now has a purpose and value that he didn’t have before.

Crocker shared his difficult but ultimately rewarding journey in a recent conversation.


Teraplegic artist Alder Crocker paints using a special table in his studio

Artist Alder Crocker paints at a specially constructed table in his studio.


AS: How does your artwork parallel your personal story?

AC: The moment I woke up after surgery on my broken neck, I knew I was lucky to be alive. And while that was at once an excruciating, traumatic event, it was also a watershed moment of happiness and joy. I now keep that front and center in everything I do.

I recognize many artists might use the pain, despair, fear, and loneliness that I experienced as an emotional engine for their work. But for me, that is the last thing I want to do. I never revisit those days and months of suffering. Instead, I only look forward to each new episodic adventure throughout the day. I bullied myself into accepting my new life – pity, remorse and lamenting the past are of no use to me – because I understand how it could easily have been worse. Therefore, I quite literally wake up every day with Christmas morning excitement and try to pour that energy into my paintings.


abstract acrylic painting by Alder Crocker

“Hatter’s Island” latex on acrylic on canvas, 24” W x 36” H x 1” D


AS: What inspired you to create artwork?

AC: When I first learned to paint after my accident, I wanted to get down on paper the images and colors that were flying through my consciousness. I later became aware that I had Acquired Savant Syndrome, which occurs in an extremely small percentage of the population after a traumatic injury. To date, there are fewer than a hundred “Acquireds” in the world. I didn’t know what I was experiencing, so my goal was to exercise the colors, if you will.

When I got home from rehab, the flood of ideas and compulsion to paint continued. At this point, I paid homage to the greats I had studied, including Pollock, Kandinsky, Reinhardt, Klein, Herring, etc. while adding my own personal spin. My inspiration was primarily the use of colors that didn’t necessarily go together. I wanted to experiment to further understand why, all of a sudden, I was able to paint.


Abstract acrylic painting by Alder Crocker

Hatter’s Beach, latex on acrylic on canvas, 48” W x 48” H x 2” D


It was at this point that I started using latex paint. I became enamored with dripping and squirting it from tubes. After my first solo show in early 2020, I decided that I needed to find my own style, and reflected on all of the things that interested me. I have never wanted to use the emotions from the accident as inspiration. What I came back to each time was my love for archaeology, from ancient alphabets and symbols, to pottery and architecture.

When I combined that with my lifelong interest in Chaos Theory (from weather and traffic patterns to currents and wave development) plus irregular color combinations, it all came together.


abstract painting by artist Alder Crocker

“Hatter’s Constellations” latex on acrylic on canvas, 24” W x 48” H x 1” D


AS: What do you want people to take away from seeing your art?

AC: That there is much more than meets the eye at first or second glance. My work is very dense, and this is on purpose. I specifically want people to continuously look at any given painting and see something new every time. The last thing I want is for a painting to be relegated to wallpaper status, barely noticed by those walking by.

I like to hide certain things within the overall content. These include my initials, sometimes the date that I created the painting, words from ancient or archaic alphabets, or familiar but esoteric symbols. They are basically snowflakes for people to search for and enjoy when found. Essentially, I want to take people on vibrant, visual adventures that are as much fun as they are unexpected. Hopefully at the same time, my art enables people to leave life’s difficulties at bay, even for just a moment.


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  1. Fabulous. This is great to know you are here. And in a new field. This is wonderful. I had a similar incident last December while walking thru New York City. All of a sudden I dropped and by the time I woke up I changed. I was an advertising writer and director. Now I am a painter and art consultant. Similar to you Acquired Savant Syndrome, I am similar. I paint. I draw. I write books. I work with art collectors and galleries. Sometimes life changes for a new look. We are lucky. Congratulations to you. You and the work is glorious!

    • Very cool Ron, so sorry about your accident but glad that something terrific came out of it. I too was in marketing before my accident, small world.

      I’m starting a group of acquired savants, if you are so inclined, please reach out to me from my website, I’d love to catch up with you. Thanks so much!

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