War Cry 29 May 2021

Page 6

ARTIST DRAWS STREN IAN PARKER tells Emily Bright about his work as a mouth painter

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AINTING well by hand can be hard enough for many people, but artist Ian Parker has honed the skill of controlling a paintbrush with his mouth. He says that his work is the culmination of a passion he has had since childhood. ‘When I was a teenager, I wanted to take art for a school exam so I could make it into my career,’ he recalls. ‘To do that, I really had to concentrate on how to paint, which I took seriously from the age of 12 or 13.’ But painting posed particular challenges for Ian. ‘I was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, which means I have fixed, partially fixed or very stiff joints,’ he explains. ‘Until I was about 12, I walked around on callipers and crutches, but, after having several falls, I decided to use a wheelchair to prevent the risk of injury. Since then, I have used the chair for moving around, and I work in it as well.’ Because of the condition, Ian began using his mouth to hold the paintbrush. He says that initially he ‘couldn’t control the paints well. Drawing with my mouth wasn’t a problem, because I enjoyed making nice neat lines, but with painting, it was a bit sloshy.’

Ian has painted with his mouth since childhood

Gradually, he grew in confidence with his painting and went on to graduate with a degree in fine art at Staffordshire University. Along the way, he came across an organisation called the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA) and applied for a fulltime job with it. ‘MFPA is a group of artists with disabilities that mean they can’t use their hands, so they paint by holding their brush, or even a pencil or pen, in their mouth or between their toes. ‘It’s not a charity, but rather a self-help group of artists, a co-operative if you like. We sell our work, which includes illustrations on Christmas or greeting cards, puzzles and books, and the money is distributed among the artists.’ He reveals a little more of the history behind the organisation. ‘The MFPA was set up in 1957 by a German mouth painter called pes landsca Ian’s repertoire spans wildlife and

Anything is possible if you give it a go

6 • WAR CRY • 29 May 2021

Erich Stegmann. He was born in 1912 and contracted polio when he was only two years old. So he had to learn how to write and paint using his mouth. ‘After the Second World War, he wanted to do something to help people with disabilities to earn a living from their art, because he was very conscious that otherwise they would have had to rely on charity for assistance. So he went round looking for artists who painted as he did. Erich started with 17 founder members, and there are now more than 800 artists in 80 countries.’ Ian has produced paintings for the MFPA that span a wide spectrum of subjects, including winter landscapes, wildlife, steam trains, aircraft and a Second World War military vehicle. He believes that his skill is a ‘gift from God’, adding: ‘I believe God has given me this talent not only to earn a living