Flight of the Mind: A Painter's Journey through Paralysis

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Table of Contents Preface by Richard Schmid


The Artist




The Gift of Time


Life of a Painting


Evolution of the Artist


Of Love and Wings


The Art of Re-Creation


The Gallery


Question and Answer with the Artist


Greater Flamingo, Oil, 16 x 20 inches


Flight of the

Marcus C. Thomas A Painter’s Journey Through Paralysis © Copyright 2012 First edition, first printing Snowy River, Ltd.Inc. The Art of Marcus C. Thomas www.marcusthomasartist.com ISBN: 978-1-938417-04-7 LCCN: 2012913930

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means—mechanical, electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without prior written permission from the artist and publisher, except as provided by United States of America copyright law. Printed in China.

Lydia Inglett Ltd. Publishing www.lydiainglett.com www.starbooks.biz

“Marcus Thomas’ work is imaginative, skillful and true in a hauntingly soulful way. His brushwork is flawless and his colors sing. His compositions are thoughtful. It’s just flat out amazing work and you certainly don’t need to know his story to admire his work. But read this book anyway. You’ll be amazed all over again.” - JULIEE SPEED, contemporary American artist “I first met Marcus and Anne in 1987 when they visited my Burrowsville, VA studio with a few painting had completed. We talked about art and painting, and I shared with him a few art books that related t subject of choice. With their bright colors and flight, birds make a marvelous subject and an interes Marcus’ wonderful outlook on life. With certainty, Marcus is one of the most positive people that I fortune to meet. Treating obstacles as mere challenges, he refuses to let them become deterrent are a true marriage in life, as well as love, and are an inspiration on both fronts. I know that know them and call them my friends. Through tenacity and boldness of spirit Marcus orchestrated life’s circumstances paintings, like his attitude towards life, are similar to the birds he paints; colorful, cheer -ED HATCH, portrait and la “My encounter with Marcus and Anne Thomas changed my life. Their shared jo about the nature of love. Marcus’ paintings are of God’s true spirit, beyond human underst the detail in his work is full of purity and emotion; his paintings are manifestations of true love. T my heart was hurting. I came upon Marcus’ artwork and Anne, radiant and beaming with kindness. In pure joy, they freely shared their story and the stories behind the paintings. God spoke to me through Anne words reminded me what true love is. Now through the story and artwork, Marcus and Anne share their hard journey and wisdom with the world. God speaks through them of the purest of love and anyone can learn from them. We all need to pay attention. ” - ANDIEE MACDOWELL, actress “When it comes to executing a painting holding a brush between one’s teeth, it takes incredible concentration, supernatural control and a loving passion for art. I should know. Like Marcus Thomas, I am a quadriplegic who paints in the same way. Marcus’ work is a stunning tribute to the courage and dedication of a true artist—this man not only possesses great skill, but pure natural talent. I’m humbled just looking at his portfolio. Which is why I highly recommend the book you hold in your hands. But don’t rush through. Linger over each beautiful page. For when you do, Flight of the Mind will refresh and inspire your heart!” - JONI EARECKKSON TADA Joni and Friends International Disability Center 7

The Artist


ith the agility and precision of an athlete, Marcus Thomas glides around in a hightech wheelchair he pilots with his mouth, expertly steering through doorways, around corners, the kitchen table, sofa and Bella the sleeping dog. He cruises onto his screenedin porch where he can observe the scene on the back deck. Overlooking a wooded slope, the

deck is outfitted with feeders and potted plants, perhaps the most popular backyard watering hole in the quiet rural neighborhood. Here, Marcus bears witness to a scene in which cardinals flirt, finches jostle one another, blue jays brawl, hummingbirds toss one back and squirrels riot.

Marcus in Lake Tahoe, California in 1985


Confined to a wheelchair since 1986, Marcus’ range of motion is limited to the expressions of his face and a slight shrug of his shoulders. He can turn his head to see about 30 degrees in either direction, but that is all. Despite this, he is not a mere innocent bystander to the revelry out his back door. He maneuvers himself into a precise position in front of an easel. His wife Anne comes in from working in the yard, rinses off her hands and places a paintbrush in his mouth. He dips it in his pallet, raises it to the canvas and with quick flick-like motions, paints his own riot. At the age of 26, Marcus Thomas survived a skiing accident which left him paralyzed from the shoulders down. Six months into his recovery, learning to live as a quadriplegic, he took up a paintbrush for the first time and started to create. Now, all these years later, he continues to learn how to live … as an artist.

“My life became a grand metaphor,” he says. When he lost the ability to move, Marcus’ journey took another form—less literal but no less real. He could no longer put one foot in front of another. Instead, his imagination grew wings. His path no longer takes him up mountain trails and down rough rivers. Rather, he careens and soars into the infinite spaces of art and creativity. Before the accident, Marcus was an athlete, living in constant motion, reveling in the physical antics and bodily grace that are the birthright of healthy young men and women. Whether he was in a kayak, on a ski slope, free falling down a waterfall, or launching a craft plane into flight over an open field, he created arcs of motion that enthralled casual onlookers. And when he glided to a stop, breathless and grinning, he had transformed his spectators into eager participants. Marcus made feats of athletic


life became a grand metaphor.� -Marcus C. Thomas 11

The Gift of Time UMAN LIFE IS MADE OF a succession of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years.

Even though it is punctuated with glimpses of eternity, the moment-to-moment struggle is no less real, for anyone. A look into how Marcus lives his moments, a study of how he spends his time, is revealing.

A surface study of Marcus’ day-to-day life reveals intimate truths about what it is like to live as a quadriplegic and an artist. Logistical challenges such as setting up the canvas and paints, manipulating the paintbrush to achieve detail, and mixing colors are just a few of the daily tasks he and Anne have smoothed to seamless rituals over years of practice. A deeper look at the way Marcus conducts his life uncovers the creative fire which fuels the daily rituals. The lived moments from sunrise to bedtime are evidence of the artist’s faithfulness to his dreams and passion. Under this lens, Marcus’ life illustrates a universal insight into time and how to use it wisely. The pure creativity an artist exercises when he sees something and decides to paint it, or dreams something and figures out how to render the dream in color, image and form is in many ways the result of a split-second flash of insight, a moment’s revelation, a bolt from the blue. But that’s only half the story. Though significant, the split 48

Osprey Study, watercolor, 2001

second of inspiration represents only a fraction of the work it takes to render that instant’s wisdom in paint. In order for inspiration to become reality—for the painting to be made—attention must be paid to the mundane: the clock, the tools, the process by which things get done. Every artist must show up to his work day after day and log in the hours required to practice his craft and see a work to completion. Every successful painter must pay homage to time, the great teacher, whose work is the slow and thorough process of learning, practicing and implementing technique. For Marcus, this process is part and parcel of the joy of his vocation. The learning process, and the fact that there is always more to learn, coupled with sheer joy in his ability to create, offers an infinity of newness and feeds his inner hunger for an active life. In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell invokes the ten thousand hour rule. According to the Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance,

Marcus relaxing on Captiva Island, FL, April 2012

practicing anything—painting, singing, writing, running, baking cakes, repairing small engines, even waiting tables—for 10,000 hours is what it takes to master any given skill. Ten thousand hours is the equivalent of 20 hours a week for 10 years. At the time of this writing, Marcus has been painting for 25 years, showing up and spending time practicing every day. It is no surprise that he has become a master of his art. Anne agrees, “At 50 years old, he probably has 150 years of painting already.” Nature study and study of the masters supplemented hours of experimentation with the paintbrush. Thoroughly engrossed with the medium of painting, Marcus taught himself the subtleties of mixing

color, the temperature of light and the rhythm of composition. “Even though life changed dramatically in 1986, my core personality remained,” Marcus reflects. “Maybe I became even more mentally aware. I started to use my brain and imagination more than when I had physical activity.” With an active mind and the time to let it roam, the days stretched inward for Marcus. He was compelled to, as he puts it, “look underneath the rug” of self and explore the inner reaches of his mind. Painting became the physical manifestation of his self-reflection and imagination after the accident. The internal landscape proved inexhaustible. Turning his gaze inward gave him a new

painting transforms the hours …


Evolution of the Artist

M “

arcus always had a poetic soul,” according to Betsy, his mother. She describes him as a child attentive to the rhythms of the world, an adventurous spirit capable of reading

between the lines of experience. “He was sensitive, descriptive and appreciated subtleties

other children didn’t notice. All that poetry came out very quickly after the accident.”

Foxgloves, watercolor, 13 x 20 inches, 1994


Those who love him can look at Marcus’ lifework and see the recurring themes and unifying threads that make his story fascinating and coherent. However, before he took up the paintbrush for the first time, Marcus never suspected his artistic ability. “It began so innocently,” he recalls. “Not with a progression of lessons but just as an activity that I was quickly falling in love with.” The absence of preconceived expectations gave him the freedom to enjoy and delight in art. Painting freed him from the wheelchair and gave his days structure, adventure and meaning. “Freedom delivered positive energy, which created happiness, which was just the thing to stimulate more painting. Now, I live to paint!” Opening up the horizon, Marcus’ physical limitations yielded to his imagination and in every sense, his love of painting was a happy discovery. In Painting as a Pastime, Winston Churchill describes the pleasure as a

“joy ride in a paint-box … Audacity is the only ticket,” he writes. A daredevil at heart, Marcus’ first works reveal his audacity and joyful thrill of discovery. He liked the colors, the feeling of making something, the logistical challenges. That first year, he created a simple Christmas scene and everyone loved it. A new year began, the seasons changed and Marcus kept painting. “Painting is a companion with whom one may hope to walk a great part of life’s journey,” Churchill proclaims, a truth close to Marcus’ heart. Each step is an opportunity to see more, do more and learn more. Painting gave Marcus the journey he thought was lost forever. Life was no longer at a standstill. In what could have been the darkest hour, painting let in fresh light and air, parting the curtains on a new vista of beauty, life and opportunity. From that moment on, Marcus’ evolution as a person went hand and step with his evolution as a painter.

Layla, watercolor, 14 x 18, 1995


heart gets bored with your mind and it changes you.” -John Prine 73

Of Love and Wings

N ITS ORIGINAL STATE, the soul was feathered all over,” Socrates declares in Plato’s Phaedrus a dialogue

on love, truth and beauty. Our “original state” is a far-flung memory, subject as we are to fleshbound lives and earth-bound heaviness. But, according to the philosopher and suspected by all of us in our better moments, there is hope. Under the transformative influence of love, it is possible to

recover our long-lost plumage, regrow our wings, and fly.

The love that restores the soul’s wings transcends the physical. Engaged fully in the act of loving—which requires faith, self-knowledge and practice—the human spirit, no longer subjected to gravity, does not know the limitations of the body. A soul in love gives birth to heroic acts, grand ideas, great art and wisdom. What was once considered impossible becomes a certainty, defying brute reality. The love that is woven through Marcus’ entire life is such transformative love, and the birds he paints feather his soul completely. It may seem as if Marcus is at the mercy of his physical reality: earth-bound, chair-bound, paralyzed. But this is an illusion, a trick of light. Marcus can fly. Inspired by his passion, possessed of the courage to live it, beloved by a strong woman who supports his lifework, Marcus soars. He flies on wings not unlike those wings fashioned by the Wright Brothers, wings crafted from the tools 86

Orchid sketch, watercolor, 2006

of his trade, from paint brushes and stretched canvas, colored rich and deep from his own pallet in Payne’s gray, raw umber, alizarin crimson. Love takes the soul on a breathtaking journey—to another country, uncharted territory of the heart. The landscape love shows us is shot through with beauty and demands its own language, known only to the lover, who can translate it for the rest of us. Marcus’ work communicates a sacred bond between world and spirit, showing us our beloved place and time, what the world looks like when the soul is given wings. It is beautifully fitting that Marcus chooses for his subject matter creatures able to move between elements: air and earth, sea and sky, past and present. Classic mediators between the world and spirit, Marcus’ birds possess a knowing look. Whether gathered together, poised on a branch, engaged in the midst of life, or soaring mid-flight, they are alert to the world

Carolina Wren, watercolor, 16 x 20 inches


your mind becomes bored with your heart, you are defeated.� -Marcus C. Thomas


A spirit free from fear is a spirit capable of achieving unforeseen heights. Marcus calls the adventure of art “a never-ending quest. There’s so much room for growth,” he says. “I’m always learning more, painting more.” He likes to recount how Michelangelo died frustrated because after so many years, on his deathbed, he felt like he was just getting it. For Marcus, this story is not heartbreaking. The limitless horizon painting invites him to explore gives his passion all the room in the world to stretch, expand and unfurl. “It’s a real short existence,” he reflects. “Be with what you love.” Socrates, who believed the sincere practice of love gives the soul wings, also held that, before birth, we have access to eternal truth. When our spirits are clothed in flesh and enter the physical world, amnesia sets in. We spend our entire lifetimes trying to remember the truths we’ve lost as best we can, namely through our passions. Some of us get farther along in this quest than others, according to Socrates, and some rare souls achieve the status of teacher, helping others remember. Marcus Thomas possesses this rare quality of knowing spirit. Through his work, he reawakens dim, lovely memories and refocuses our love on the eternal truths resident in the ephemeral, real world. 90

Great Egret in Flight, oil, 18 x 36 inches


The Gallery “I

seldom think about my limitations and they never make me sad. Perhaps there is just a touch of yearning at times; but it is vague. Like a breeze among the flowers.� - Helen Keller


The Gallery “I

seldom think about my limitations and they never make me sad. Perhaps there is just a touch of yearning at times; but it is vague. Like a breeze among the flowers.� - Helen Keller


Northern Cardinal and Dogwood Oil, 12 x 24 inches

Gingko and Phoebe Oil, 24 x 18 inches

Orchid and Vase Oil, 24 x 18 inches


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