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Monday, October 14, 2019

Disability and Visual Culture


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My name is Dan Keplinger. I was born with Cerebral Palsy and I have been painting since I was 16 years of age. Many years ago (2000), I was the subject of an Academy Award winning film entitled King Gimp filmed by William A. Whiteford and Susan Hannah Hadary, and was written by me was made about my life. It showed my struggles, especially my desire to become an artist. I feel that my life with a disability and my mainstream education as an artist has allowed me to explore the disability visual culture from both vantage points, those of an insider and outsider.

I had my first gallery show at the Phyllis Kind Gallery in New York City in 2000. I have had two additional solo exhibitions since then at the same gallery. (Figure 1.) This portrait was done during my Senior year of high school, when I was experiencing a lot of turmoil, like most other teenagers. My first solo show consisted of mostly self-portraits, but they were done in away that was not expected from a person with a disability. They were dark and thought provoking; the viewer could see that I tapped into raw emotions.

When installing this show, Phyllis took into account that I was in a wheelchair and that this fact would attract other wheelchair users to her gallery. So the paintings were hung at eye level for people in wheel chairs, rather than the usual 60 inch midline. Many people with disabilities came to see the exhibition.

A few years into my art career, I began to have problems with my feet that kept me from working on my art for weeks at a time. Since I produce my art kneeling on the floor, my podiatrist said a permanent solution would be foot surgery. I put it off until 2004 for fear that it would change, or end how I produce my work. However, this fear has led me to new imagery. I started to re-invent my visual vocabulary. For example, I began to morph my foot into the front wheel of my chair. My current work is comprised of both painting and printmaking and in these concurrent bodies of work I explore this new foot/chair iconography (Figure 2.). Also the idea of the places I cannot physically get to, would they be better places or not?

Also, during this time I had to switch to a new doctor who did not know anything about me, or my success. She suggested that I try drug therapy to help control my movement. I refused to take the medicine because it would not only have changed who I am but my artwork as well. I am happy with who I am and what I am able to accomplish. My ability, the way the world perceives me, and the unique way in which I produce my work are an integral part of my artistic identity and vocabulary.

My work is deeply personal. Everything I create is an attempt to convey my experience to the viewer. I want the viewer to understand my physical as well as psychological experience in the world. I might paint a wheelchair climbing a set of stairs in an attempt to reveal some of the physical barriers I encounter in everyday life. In other words, I incorporate the image of a chair, which I anthropomorphize by giving it hands and feet. This image is meant to impart some of the psychological aspects of my life. Most people upon first seeing me do not see me as an individual but rather see only my chair. Although my work is about my own experience, I feel that it deals with the challenges in life, which can be experienced by anyone, regardless of his or her physical or psychological realities.

In the painting Who’s Town 2006 (figure3.), I become the architect of my own town, to make it more conforming to my needs. Everyone always talks about taking control of their lives, they should be disabled for a week. Then they would really get since of lack of control.

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