CHICAGO – The greeting card shows a familiar image – three people carrying gifts – but was created in a way that might surprise some people.
The image, in front of one of the Mouth & Foot Painting Artists 2021 greeting cards, was created by Chicago artist Mariam ParÃ© by creating strokes with her teeth, something she learned to do after quitting. ‘a bullet cut off his ability to hold a brush.
She was 20 years old and was studying for an art degree in 1996 when a bullet hit her while she was sitting in a friend’s car. During her recovery, an occupational therapist introduced her to oral painting, which she has practiced for decades in various mediums.
“It was after that that I knew where my calling was,” she said. “It gave me a goal after my injury.”
Soon after learning this new way of creating art, she bonded with Mouth & Foot Painting Artists, a group founded in 1957 by a polio survivor and other artists in situations that hurt their ability to paint with their arms. The group’s work is featured on greeting cards, calendars, prints and puzzles available for purchase.
Some members were injured in accidents such as car wrecks or falls; others have lost their abilities due to diseases that damage the nervous system. Still others, like ParÃ©, were shot and wounded.
ParÃ© said it is helpful to connect with other people who paint using similar techniques. âI thought I was the only one in the world to paint in this really strange way,â she said. And then I found out, ‘Oh my God, people do that with their feet too. “”
When she first wrote her name with her mouth, she discovered it was the same handwriting that was done with her fingers.
âIt’s kind of the little spark that got me to say ‘Wow, if I write my name that way I could probably paint that way,'” she said.
It helped her feel that the artistic visions in her mind might come a different way.
âIt was in there, my aesthetic was in me,â she said.
Over the years, she has changed the way she works; she would turn paintings upside down to reach the top of a work of art; now she has an easel that makes it easier for her to reach larger sizes.
The image on the greeting card is from a painting she finished 15 years ago and reminds her of how far she has come. She created it as a student member, imagining Christmas motifs and thinking about the first gift givers.
âThis card was special,â ParÃ© said. “It makes me feel amazing, that my works are shared with so many people.”
She has since presented exhibitions and installations, including her recent âTres Fridas Projectâ, which explored disability by recreating iconic works of art and focusing them on people with disabilities. She tries to use her art to promote identity and awareness of disability.
Especially during the pandemic, she said, this has been helpful in sustaining her artistic community. âHaving the MFPA helped me a lot,â she says, âbecause we were still active within the association despite the pandemic.
They help recently injured or disabled people who may not be familiar with mouth painting to get involved.
Recently, she hooked up with Peter Soby, who is originally from Chicago. Art had always been a part of his life; he drew in high school and played several musical instruments.
But during his university studies in 1987, he dived into a lake that was too shallow, severing his spinal cord. Even though he lost his ability to play the piano or the guitar, he played the harmonica. And even if he can no longer paint with his arms, he learns from ParÃ© to paint with his mouth.
âIt’s a big serendipity story, in my opinion,â he said. He and ParÃ© had logged in via Facebook, linked by similar injuries and both being from the Chicago area.
She asked him if he had painted before; he had taken a few classes in high school but hadn’t experimented since. Thanks to her, he discovered the organization of oral painting and applied for membership.
She told him, “Paint something you are passionate about” and he started with his beloved cat. Her style evolved to take inspiration from Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein starting with different sets of her cat.
He said it helped him find a new way to be creative after working in production for things like music videos, where the long hours on set are increasingly difficult to bear.
âIt’s a chance for me to truly embrace new life as an artist,â he said.
Being a member of the Mouth & Foot Painting Artists allows him to earn money doing something he loves. These days he works in scriptwriting and creating paintings.
âI could really embrace the life of an artist,â he said.