Most art enthusiasts attend outdoor fairs and festivals to sample the art and get a flavor for current trends in contemporary art. But for those who engage the exhibitors in conversation, art fairs and festivals present an unequaled opportunity to get to know artists from around the country, learn about their inspiration and techniques, and hear inspiring stories about their creative journeys.
Perhaps no journey has been more inspiring than the one Weaverville, North Carolina artist Marcus Thomas is on. But to share his story with you, he first has to put down his paintbrush. You see, Marcus paints with his mouth as the result of a skiing accident suffered in 1986 that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down.
It would have been understandable if the young man had given in to self-pity. After all, the athletic and physically-active college grad had a brand new degree in commercial recreation and a life mapped out as the activities director at a vacation resort.
“That Christmas,” Marcus tells, “I received a set of Crayola watercolors.” Although he had no background in art, he launched himself into a new adventure. He became not just a painter, but an artist whose works are so accurate, you’d swear you were looking at a photograph rather than an oil on canvas or panel.
“I like realism and the edginess of surrealism,” Marcus notes, and toward that end, his paintings combine hyper-realistic technique with magical surrealism imagery.
Dating as far back as van Eyck and Vermeer, artists have used various techniques including camera obscura in order to achieve a photographic quality in their finished work. But not Marcus Thomas. He paints free hand, except in his case, he uses a brush rigged to a mouthpiece that he clenches between his teeth. But as a result, he’s required to make adaptations in the process to which classically-trained artists religiously adhere.
He cannot render a drawing of his motif or subject matter in pencil or charcoal. “I have to use a small, fine point brush instead.” And once he places the outline of his composition on canvas, he can’t hone the image with a Sharpie or magic marker. “I just start applying the paint,” he mentally shrugs.
His results are spectacular. His paintings at the Naples Masters Winter Art Festival at the Galleria Shoppes at Vanderbilt last weekend stopped visitors dead in their tracks. Only then did they notice Marcus parked in his wheelchair, meticulously dabbing paint on a canvas and stroking it into place.
Not only are his works a true crowd pleaser, they have garnered him a number of Best of Shows and certificates of merit. In 2011, Marcus won Best of Show at the Naples Invitational Art Fest in Fleischmann Park, where he is returning this weekend to exhibit and create new work.
“I like art festivals,” says the artist. “They allow me to travel and be outdoors.”
Marcus is quick to give credit to the love of his life. “Without my wife, Anne, this wouldn’t be possible.” Anne’s love and devotion is inspirational too.
Besides Naples Invitational this weekend, Marcus and Anne plan to be at Bonita Springs National Art Festival February 11 & 12 and Sanibel Island Arts & Craft Fair on February 18 & 19. They are also working with author Leslie Nicole Johnson on a book, A Painter’s Journey Through Paralysis, due out this summer. The 25-year retrospective not only chronicles the progress in Marcus’ work, it details the travails and triumphs of painting with paralysis.
But don’t tell that to Marcus. “I have no limits,” the artist steadfastly maintains.