An artist friend of mine, who passed away last year, used to paint on huge canvases that filled entire walls when they were hung in galleries. With his limited mobility, he couldn’t just use a stepladder to reach the upper corners, or lay it on the floor to paint it as a nondisabled artist might do–so instead, he painted it in pieces, tacking the canvas section by section to the front porch railing of his house where he could work from his wheelchair.
Yet at the same time my friend insisted that his disability had nothing to do with his work. He never painted disabled subjects and he always said his artistic vision would have been no different if he had been born without a disability. To him, art was a refraction of the world through the lens of his own perception, not a snapshot of himself.
I didn’t believe him for one minute. His experience of disability came screaming out of every brushstroke. There was more to his art than that, obviously, but he couldn’t have lived in his body and not have it affect how he saw–and depicted–the bodies around him. It’s too bad he never did a self-portrait–it would have blown the lid off the art world.
The artists on the following pages have all had their work informed by their experience with disability. Most create using traditional means, while others such as Robert Thome and Erin Brady Worsham have made “reasonable accommodations” to familiar media. Each, however, has brought forth images that are powerful, challenging, even disturbing. For it is in those abilities–not disabilities–that art puts us all in touch with our common humanity.