Someone recently asked me if I thought my disability affects why and how I paint. What this person wanted to know was not how I paint without use of my arms or how I reach the top of my very tall canvases despite my size, but how my sense of seeing evolved due to my disability. I do everything with my mouth- I cook, clean, kiss, sing, carry, and paint through my teeth, jaw, tongue and lips... and my mouth is very close to my eyes. I see so many things most people don't get the opportunity to really see. When something is carried between one's teeth it means it must have at one point been staring them in the eye. Right now my eyes are about four inches from my keyboard as I type holding a pen. Every shadow, every color change, every shape and piece of grime is there for my eye. This is how I learned to see detail, to pay attention to my visual world, to in effect, fall in love with the act of seeing. My mouth taught me. From my wheelchair I also learned how to see, how to watch the world. Since my tactile skills are weak, my body made up for this by constantly exercising my eyes. I watched the things that others touched. I watched as I waited, as I moved.
My paintings are not at all only about the body, but the body is inevitably an aspect of my relationship with whatever it is that I am seeing. My body has taught me how to use my eyes to not only see, but to also touch, and grab, and embrace. The body inevitably is always in my images, but this is largely because my images are all of people close to me and they all have bodies (all sorts of bodies). This is also because the body itself is a good place to explore seeing, especially the body of someone you know well, because you see not only the physical, but the emotional and psychological. In a loved one, the intangible realities of sadness, joy, love, confusion, hatred, and humor, can become visual through the body and through the space that the body exists in and through its movements. In this way what my mouth is trying to teach me to see, is not only physical, but is feeling. I want to see what I feel and what the world feels.
I also want to paint and see politics, because I was born into them. I have a rare congenital disability called Arthrogryposis that was caused by toxic waste contamination in our groundwater, from the world’s largest polluter, the US military. I am now twenty-four, use a wheelchair for mobility and my mouth to paint. I grew up in a household of artists and anti-war activists, which perhaps made the knowledge that my body was formed by the industry of war, even more traumatic. I began at twelve to express myself and deal with these emotions through paint. Painting is a love of seeing. It is a way of sensually participating in the world through the filter of one’s eyes, to try to see both the most obscure and consuming inner world, and the objective reality of light and shadow, texture and color. I paint people I love and emotions that swallow me, but although my works are emotional portraits, they are largely also political statements on war, ideas of normalcy, and issues of identity and expression.