Disabled painter brings exhibit to Seattle
Magnolia News July 4, 1990
Mary Darling

Brom Wikstrom fondly refers to the paintings he creates as his "children". Both the intricate abstracts of interlocking human figures and the scenes of Cascade forests he paints are works he hopes to pass on to future generations.

But unlike artists who have the use of their hands and feet to transform their visions into tangible works of art, Wikstrom, a 37 year old Magnolia resident, uses his mouth.

At the age of 22, Wikstrom broke his neck after diving into a shallow part of the Mississippi River.

The accident left him paralyzed from the chest down, with limited use of his hands. Before the accident, Wikstrom had been following in the footsteps of his father and older brother, Bill as a commercial artist.

The first attempt at painting with his mouth after the accident were discouraging, Wikstrom said. For the first six months, he produced what de described as "wild abstracts". It wasn't until years later that he develped his own technique, he said, drawing inspiration from such Northwest abstract artists as Mark Tobey and Wendell Brazeau. In the past two years, Wikstrom has begun painting the forests and streams surrounding his weekend retreat near the Cascade Mountains.

Wikstrom said his volunteer work teaching art to children in hospitals led to his organizing exhibits with Very Special Arts, an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Very Special Arts coordinates arts programs for people with physical and mental disabilities.

Wikstrom's latest endeavor, in keeping with the Goodwill Games, is an exhibition titled "Art in Adversity". The exhibition shows the works of artists from 15 foreign countries including Spain, Denmark, Switzerland, Egypt, El Salvador and Japan.

Many of the works are by members of the International Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists. Irish artist Christy Brown, whose life was chronicled in the movie "My Left Foot", has had his work reproduced on greeting cards and calendars.

Other pieces are on loan from Very Special Arts or are by members of Disabled Artist Network and Artists Unlimited, a group whose members have cerebral palsy.

Wikstrom said this exhibit is his way of saying thank you to Seattle, the town he was born and raised in and is very accessible to the handicapped compared to other cities.

He said he chose the title "Art in Adversity" because it doesn't promote sympathy, and because it counters the stereotypes surrounding disabilities.

"Everyone deals in adversity" he said. "I hope that this artwork is taken on its own merit, and that people don't look at it and say, "Oh, of course... he did it with his feet".

"The creative spirit exists and no matter what someone's disability is, if they're determined to express themselves, they'll find a way to do it", he said.

Shown at Art Not Terminal Gallery, Seattle, Washington, USA.

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