Disabled artist, Jason Wilsher-Mills, tells Disability Horizons how the Apple iPad helped him to rediscover art and use it as a way to express himself.
My name is Jason Wilsher-Mills and I am a 42-year-old disabled digital artist.
After having to leave full time work in 2010, due to my disability and illness, I felt very despondent that my life was at a dead end. By chance I read an article about the artist David Hockney, in which he described how he used an Apple iPad to make paintings with.
As I had trained as an artist, in the early 1990s, I felt that this was the perfect opportunity to express myself again. Suddenly new prospects opened up to me as I started to exhibit my work; my second exhibition in 2011 was a group show, opened by PIXAR Studios.
I was then able to show my work at the prestigious Cork Street Gallery, in London, and at several galleries throughout the country. I even sold work to a French gallery.
So, after an artistic hiatus of 15 years, I suddenly found that I had an unexpected art career.
My work deals primarily with my self-image as a disabled person, and the long-standing effects of illness and disability. I do this through the use of theatrical trickery, humour and honesty. I can place myself in environments and creative narratives that describe what it is to me to be disabled. I understand that through art I can free myself from the restrictions that my body presents to me.
I create work in a diary format, so that my images are produced in reaction to my daily life as a disabled person, through which I express the issues one has to confront when one has a long-term illness or disability. I make the pain I encounter into beautiful images, or into fantastical theatrical motifs, which takes away the power of the illness, disability and pain.
The self-portraits are sometimes provocative; they are honest, with the focus being totally on the message of hope through celebration. I choose with some of my self-portraits to align myself with heroes from my life, which also signpost other facets of my childhood, relationships with my family and personal obsessions with popular culture, including rugby league players.
In 2012 I am taking part in a year-long residency with Wakefield Trinity Wildcats RLFC, which will hopefully be funded by the Arts Council England. Mark Winder, the Education Executive at the Wildcats, approached me to record the last year the club have in their existing 120-year-old stadium, before they move to a new home, and he believed in the honesty of my work.
In my work I try to address the issues that my disability presents to me: the pain, the medication and the fact that I have to use external ‘interventions’ in order for my body to work, such as the wheelchair, the drugs and other body adaptations.
I also use the paintings as a way of describing to my family how my health and disability is affecting me. My sister has been known to check my latest work on Flickr in order to ascertain whether or not it is worth ringing me, as she can tell my state of health from my daily painting.
Through this process, other aspects of ‘my story’ are unlocked and new biographies are created. I produce my work using an iPad and I then print them out, using the Giclée printing method. But I perceive the images created to follow the tradition of painting. The iPad is wonderful as it affords me the opportunity to work on a small scale, but then have the images printed at whatever size I decide as being most suitable.
My initial decision to make art using an iPad was in some ways a direct contradiction of my formal painting training, as part of my degree in fine art. I was entranced by the seductive nature of using oil paint, and all the paraphernalia that goes with it, such as linseed oil, bees wax, dammar varnish, etc.
When I became disabled, and fatigue caused me to become very tired when I carried out any physical activity, I was desperate to find a replacement with a similar feel to that of using oil on a surface, but reconciled to the loss of this medium. But I still had the strong view that the most important thing was to create art again, to get those images out of my head and onto the surface.
The surface had become negotiable, but the art, the image, was not.
Choosing the iPad to make art was initially a very practical solution for me. I still consider it to be painting, and even ordered a ‘brush’ stylus from America, which was developed, I suspect, to make it ‘OK’ for artists to use iPad to make art, to paint.
I work from my wheelchair, or my bed, and due to the portability of the iPad I have even been known to create paintings whilst waiting to go into Grantham Hospital earlier this year for a spinal operation.
Working on the iPad, on that 9 x 6.5 inch screen provides a private space to work in, and the opportunity to experiment with the image, by using other software and disciplines to intervene with the paintings I make. The work is digital and therefore can be manipulated so that I can print them out to any size, project them or simply have them exist as digital diary entries on the iPad.
The past year has shown me that anything is possible, and now I am looking forward to a year-long art residency and a 3-month exhibition at the National Centre for Craft & Design.
You can see my work here.
Finding art again, through the iPad, has changed my life… and it is pretty good at the moment.
By Jason Wilsher-Mills