An art book chronicling the relationship between disability and creativity in one painter’s career.
Artist Thomas’ debut book, an oversized hardcover complete with full-page reproductions of his work and other accompanying images, will be right at home on many coffee tables. Thomas, who was rendered quadriplegic in a skiing accident at 26 and learned to paint by manipulating a brush with his mouth, mostly recreates scenes from the natural world he has always loved: flowers, shells, landscapes and, as his title suggests, a wide variety of birds. (The odd plane also reveals Thomas’ longstanding preoccupation with flight and passion for building model planes prior to his accident.) Thomas is a representative painter; his images are marked by a vivid color palette and a sense of detail so meticulously wrought his paintings sometimes approach a photographic realism. This said, he may be at his most affecting when he dabbles in portraiture or when his naturalistic works include some fantastic or fanciful element. In the painting Fishing Stories, for instance, the line between the real and the represented blurs—a painted fishing kit containing a small man and boat rests on an easel, but the kit’s strap then extends past the edge of the canvas to hang over the easel. It’s a slyly puzzling visual that suggests the exaggeration and truth-bending so common in fishing stories. Throughout the book, Thomas’ images are contextualized by Johnson’s written narrative, which traces Thomas’ life story from his active boyhood through the transformative experience of disability. With a journalistic but intimate tone, Johnson brings Thomas, his family and his wife, Anne, into vivid detail—not unlike a Thomas painting itself. The art and the text, which share a heartfelt wonder at the world and its occurrences, are well-paired, though more cynical readers may find this quality cloying.
An artist’s moving story paired with his paintings.