By Alie Kriofske, Youth Leadership Specialist
“We’re going to see an artist who paints with his mouth!”
That was what my five-year-old daughter said as we headed to the IndependenceFirst Gallery Night reception last Friday afternoon.
But as we sat and listened to featured artist Jeff LaDow talk about his work, his art and his life, it was way more than that. Jeff LaDow is an artist. And you could say it is remarkable that he paints, not with his hands, but using an elaborate setup—a paintbrush attached to a mouthpiece made by his dentist. You could say that it is remarkable that he is an artist, even though an accident in his youth caused him to have a disability and he can no longer use his hands. But to my family, it was remarkable because his paintings are beautiful.
As we looked at the exhibition of LaDow’s work on display at IndependenceFirst, my ten-year-old son said, “It doesn’t even matter that he can’t use his hands, his art is just good art anyway!”
LaDow talked about his personal assistants who not only help him out of bed and with his other daily living activities, but who also set up his easel, get his paints ready and put his paintbrush in his mouth. And that was interesting. But what was most interesting, what my family gained from his talk, was hearing him talk about his creative process, about what inspires him to paint. He talked about butterflies. He told a story about a family who had suffered a loss and there was a butterfly that stayed with them. Every time they opened the window to set it free, it flew back in, landing on their shoulders or their laps. Finally there was an aunt in the family who didn’t believe in the mysticism of the butterfly and she blew on it. And it flew away.
Being an artist like Jeff is like that, in a way. People believed in him. He had teachers who let him study under them, the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists of the World that allows his work to have international support, and art lovers who buy his work. And even if someone did brush him off, or blow him away like that butterfly, LaDow believed in himself.
“I knew I could be an artist,” he said. That’s the secret behind any good artist: believing you can do it.
“You could call him an artist who can’t use his hands,” my son said as we left, “But really he’s just an artist.”
A good one.
The “No Pity… Please” exhibition of Jeff LaDow’s artwork is on display at IndependenceFirst, 540 S. 1st St. in Milwaukee, through October 31 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information call 414-291-7520 V/TTY.
Check out LaDow and the IndependenceFirst exhibition in the news!
You can also find more information about Jeff LaDow and his work on Facebook.