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These Artists Refused to Allow Disabilities to Adversely Affect their Careers

They create amazing works, despite—or perhaps because of—their physical limitations.
Photo of Mariam Paré painting a portrait of Chuck Close with her mouth. Courtesy the artist and Mouth and Foot Painting Artists Worldwide

This piece is part of our Dimension Defying Series, in which we explore artists who, like the Marvel character Doctor Strange, transcend physical, dimensional, perceptual, and conceptual limitations.

Many individuals have experienced physical afflictions, ailments, and other impairments that threatened to cut short their careers in the arts. But painters such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Frida Kahlo have displayed that a disability rarely gets in the way of a true artist. In addition to creating memorable works, an artist serves to galvanize and motivate future creatives in the face of adversity. Contemporary artist Chuck Close creates highly collectible photorealist paintings with his prosopagnosia, an inability to recognize faces. Meanwhile, Mark di Suvero enjoys a reputation as a world-famous abstract expressionist sculptor, even after breaking his back and injuring his spine. Here are very different contemporary artists who continue to inspire future creatives, despite—or because of—their physical limitations:


Baso Fibonacci 

Image courtesy of the artist

Seattle-based artist Baso Fibonacci suffered an accident that left him in a wheelchair and unable to use his right hand. Undeterred, he started painting with his left, and today creates gorgeous, vividly colored paintings of flora and fauna as well as mixed-media artworks of various subjects.

The name Baso Fibonacci goes by is one he chose, not the one he was born with. But it still fits him perfectly, as it symbolizes the marriage of East and West— the union of philosophy with the abstract science of space, quantity, and numbers. Baso comes from the Japanese name for an 8th-century Chinese figure named Mazu Daoyi, who popularized Chan Buddhism, a combination of Mahāyāna Buddhism and Taoism that was an early form of Zen Buddhism. Leonardo Fibonacci, meanwhile, was an early modern Italian mathematician who helped popularize the Hindu–Arabic numeral system as well as a series of integers that became known as the Fibonacci sequence.

Image courtesy of the artist

The artist, who goes simply by Baso, paints in layers on Plexiglass, evoking the 19th-century French art style of Impressionism, which is characterized by small yet noticeable brushstrokes. But there's definitely a contemporary feel to his art, too—an urban sensibility that commonly defines street art. However, just like the synthesis of philosophy and math, Baso's own art is a combination of classical fine art and approachable design, a union of opposites that ensures Baso Fibonacci lives up to his name.


Image courtesy of the artist

Alessandro Schiattarella

Born in Naples, Italy, Alessandro Schiattarella is a dancer who began exhibiting signs of monomelic amyotrophy at the age of 15. Also known as Hirayama disease, MMA is a focal motor neuron disease that cuts off the supply of nerves to affected limbs. In Schiattarella's case, it was his hands. But Schiattarella refused to let his affliction stand in the way of becoming a world-class performer, choreographer, and videographer.

As someone living with MMA, Schiattarella found himself in the unique position of being caught in the liminal space between "normal" and "disabled," and through his art, he questions the very meaning of what he describes as "less-visible liability and corporeal difference." His findings have led him to further investigate how physical limitations can lead to new, undiscovered abilities.

Based in Switzerland, Schiattarella has forged an impressive career working with esteemed ballet companies in Lausanne, Geneva, Rotterdam, Bern, and Basel. The award-winning performer has since created several moving, personal, and thought-provoking solo dance performances such as Altrove and Tell Me Where It Is. Currently, he's working on a production for five dancers called STRANO, premiering at the ROXY Birsfelden in 2017.

Mariam Paré

Heart Hands, oil on board, 9"x12" (Painted by mouth by artist Mariam Paré, courtesy of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists Worldwide.

Art has always been an integral part of Mariam Paré's life, but when she was 20 years old, she became the unwitting victim of gun violence, suffering a serious spinal cord injury as a result. Paré was suddenly a quadriplegic and needed to adjust to a new life with very limited mobility. But she also found that the traumatic experience never compromised her calling to the visual arts.


While at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Mariam first learned to use her mouth in order to hold a writing instrument, and from there, she started painting again. However, she quickly found that painting with her mouth was very different from painting with her hands, as there wasn't much information on how to do it. Paré subsequently embarked on a journey of experimentation that led her to where she is today.

Float, oil on canvas, 12"x16". Painted by mouth by artist Mariam Paré, courtesy of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists Worldwide.

Now, Paré expertly uses her mouth to create stunning artworks from her studio outside Chicago, inspired by a range of subjects and working with a variety of media. She is also an advocate for those with spinal cord injuries, and is actively involved with the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA), as well as the art therapy program on the Associate Board at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago where she first learned to hold a pencil with her mouth 20 years ago.

These stories serve as an inspiring example of how some of the toughest obstacles will never stand in the way of a true artist when it comes to creative expression.

Chuck Close, acrylic on canvas, 12"x12". Painted by mouth by artist Mariam Paré, courtesy of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists Worldwide

Doctor Strange is in theaters November 4. Get tickets here.  

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