Perhaps I ended my last post with a deceivingly promising cliff hanger. The truth is (and unfortunately so) that I am probably one of the only ones who will be super excited about this. As you can see, Caddy, the man who graciously modeled for the above painting, has two deformed arms. In case you don’t already know (and anyone who knows me very well at all, already does know), there’s not much that I am more passionate about than deformities. I think deformities are a rare and beautiful thing. However, the fact that they are rare seems to work against me, since it is uncommon to meet someone with deformities, and even rarer that they would be willing to let me paint them. That is why Caddy is a dream come true for me.
As I have said before, reading “One of Us” by Alice Dreger sent me on an artistic journey and inspired a train of thought that motivates a lot of what I do today. Also contributing to my fascination, about a year ago, I read “My Life in My Hands” by Alison Lapper, an incredible woman who has no arms and no legs but does have an artist heart that seems to be almost identical to my own. In the next paragraph, I am going to paste an excerpt from her autobiography that expresses my ideas concerning art. However, I want to preface it by saying that when she says “disabled people” or “impaired forms”. I, personally would replace these words with “deformities” or, as my dad has suggested, “six sigma humanity”. I say this because while deformities often are, in fact, disabling, there is also many cases in which they are not (Caddy in particular seemed considerably “able-bodied”to me). Also, referring to the people as “disabled” seems to focus more on the functionality and limitations of the conditions, as apposed to the aesthetic beauty of it. However, I wouldn’t want to ignore or deny the limiting aspect of the conditions, it’s just that that is not where my interest lies, as an artist. The question posed by the book “One of Us” is, “Can something be beautiful and painful at the same time?”. And I would answer that with “absolutely yes”. In fact, some of the most beautiful things and experiences in life are accompanied with pain (ie childbirth, a difficult piece of artwork, etc). I enjoy seeing the beauty- the silver lining- in these cases that may have endured a lot of pain as well. Another reason I am not inclined to say “disabled” is because it is a very relative term, that really depends on a person’s circumstances (someone might be disabled in one environment or with some challenges, but not in another). Anyways, I just wanted to explain my qualms with the terminology that is used in the book, but, essentially, the idea of this quote really reflects my feelings about the deformed person in art:
“Once again, it made me question the whole concept of the debate in society about disability. I have the impression that the able-bodied majority just can’t be bothered with it. They aren’t interested in exploring the issues or seeing the aesthetic beauty that may lie in the depictions of impaired forms. If we walk along the beach and find a stone with a hole in it, we don’t look at it with revulsion simply because most other stones don’t have holes in them. In fact, we may be entranced by the variety of shape that the stone with the hole has brought to our attention. However we don’t respond in that way to the human form when it varies too much from the accepted norm.”
For that reason, I see deformed people as extraordinary gems. I got to paint “Little Miss Firefly” about a year ago. Then I painted the conjoined twins, but I didn’t actually have a model for that painting. Caddy is my second deformed model, but I am praying for many more to come my way. It might take me a lifetime, but I’d like to complete this series with quite an array of different deformities. If you’ve got the kind of connections I need, please pass them along to me. I’ll be eternal grateful!