Foreword by Professor Ken Howard,OBE
Professor of Perspective, Royal Academy of Art
‘Painting is always a challenge, the arriving at a personal language, the mastering of technique both of drawing and of painting, the sheer physical effort and commitment.
Keith Jansz took up the challenge when he became tetraplegic. He had lost the use of his hands and legs in a tragic road accident in 1995, and was paralysed from the neck down. He turned to painting, with the added challenge of painting with his mouth not his hands.
To begin with Keith needed help, encouragement and inspiration, and he received these from fellow artists in the Mouth & Foot Painting Artists. An active sportsman before his accident Keith knew what it was to push himself to his limits and this he now did with his painting, soon holding exhibitions of his work which attracted great interest and admiration.
Keith’s work is full of light and colour. Above all else it is full of joy.
In Keith’s own words
‘I love to feel my brush dance across the canvas and give back to me the sensation of movement which my body now lacks.’
More than anything else art must be life enhancing. Keith’s work is precisely that, because it is not only true for the viewer but the artist too.’
Ken Howard R.A.
Keith Jansz started painting for the first time since junior school after having run the London Marathon for Barnardo’s in 1995. Just two months later he suffered a broken neck in a tragic car accident, resulting in complete paralysis from the shoulders down.
After six months in the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Keith returned home to begin the painful process of adjusting to his new situation. Unable to do anything for himself Keith naturally experienced the depths of despair.
In December 1996 Keith’s mother-in-law gave him a book entitled ‘Painters First’, a collection of biographies of the Mouth & Foot Painting Artists. Keith was able to empathise with the artists tragic stories and was inspired by reading of their triumphs and successes.
Eager to encourage this spark of interest, Keith’s wife, Cindy, arranged a meeting with the mouth artist Trevor Wells who persuaded Keith to try painting by holding a brush in his mouth. Despite disastrous early efforts Keith persevered and in 1998 he was accepted as a Student Artist by the international self-help organisation, the Mouth & Foot Painting Artists. This achievement spurred Keith on to work with such determination that in 2000 he was promoted to a full Member Artist within the Association.
Since then Keith’s paintings have been sold as reproductions worldwide. He has held a number of solo exhibitions in the UK and Italy and his paintings have been exhibited in museums around the world including Lisbon, Madrid, Copenhagen, Shanghai and Atlanta.
Keith enjoys exploring the sensations of light in his paintings, from the sparkling reflective sunlight at the beach to the unique atmospheric light in Venice, and the long shadows of winter light on snow. He also enjoys the demanding discipline of painting the human figure, in pastel or oil. Like his heroes, the Impressionists, Keith revels in the challenge of painting ‘en plein air‘ to capture the most authentic effect, completing his paintings in the studio.
Salvation through Art – Creativity for Health
Art has long been recognised as providing an outlet during times of emotional turmoil. There is an intimate connection between artistic creativity and psychological wellbeing, although this is hard to prove in scientific terms.
Researchers believe that creativity stimulates both the logical and emotional parts of our brain, helping us to confront challenges. It provides a way of coping and providing answers. In addition, the concentration required to create art means that it is hard to focus on anything else, giving the mind a break from unrest and agitation.
It is well known that Winston Churchill used painting to cope with the pressures of office throughout his life, the benefits of which he extolled in his book Painting as A Pastime, a small volume that I highly recommend, having read and re-read it myself.
Many artists are known to have suffered from mental health disorders – Goya, Edvard Munch, Louis Wain – but undoubtedly the best-known of these is Vincent Van Gogh. He described his torment in a letter to his brother Theo:
‘One feels as if one were lying bound hand and foot at the bottom of a deep, dark well, utterly helpless’
Even though Van Gogh lived not much more than a century ago his exact condition is still not certain, although numerous experts have tried to define it.
Van Gogh spent most of the last year of his life in the asylum at Saint Remy where he had voluntarily admitted himself, suffering from perhaps a type of epilepsy, bi-polar disorder, the side effects of syphilis, lead poisoning from paints or thujone poisoning from drinking excessive amounts of absinthe.
The paintings from this period, whilst overshadowed by his deep despair, illustrate his underlying optimism and the joy he felt from painting. To Theo, Vincent wrote:
How much sadness there is in life! Nevertheless, one must not become melancholy. One must seek distraction in other things, and the right thing is to work.
At the launch of the Bethlem Museum of the Mind in March 2015 Grayson Perry, a patron of the museum, gave a speech describing the importance of art to mental well-being. He said,
‘Art is the greatest asset to mental health that I have’, describing his creative practice as ‘obsession, voyage of discovery and therapy, all rolled into one’.
The many challenges required by painting, or indeed any creative activity, stimulate problem solving skills. Art has been described as enabling the mind to adapt to changing circumstances, enhancing flexibility to cope with the inevitable stresses of life.
Studies show that participation in the arts can help to stimulate new neural pathways in the brain, leading to new skills and habits of thinking, and therefore new ways of approaching life situations.
One of our great British artists of the past, John Constable, descended into a deep depression following the untimely death of his beloved wife, Maria.
His friend John Fisher, nephew of the Bishop of Salisbury, encouraged Constable to throw himself into his work as a distraction from his grief and the artist’s archetypal landscapes took on a sombre feel during this period, most famously the darkly brooding canvas of Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows.
Significantly, the artist later added a rainbow to the scene, an addition that has been interpreted in several ways but seems to me to be a positive recognition of the continuation of life, even after loss. I like to quote Constable, who wrote to his friend John Fisher
‘Painting is but another word for feeling’
It is interesting that many people have commented that I do not paint subjects that express my frustration with the situation I find myself in, that I do not explore the transition from able bodied sportsman to paralysed tetraplegic through my art, that I have never painted my personal version of Munch’s The Scream?
In truth I feel very fortunate, in the situation I find myself in, to have found a new career that I love. I earn my living through painting and I love to paint what I see around me – the marvels of nature, the great cities built by man, subjects that lift my spirits and hopefully have the same effect on others.
I completely identify with Grayson Perry’s statement upholding the importance of the creative process to mental health, and acknowledge this effect in myself. The problem solving required – ‘What will happen if I use this colour here? How will the whole composition be affected by introducing a figure there?’ – it’s a chess game, the skills required being comparable to dealing with problems and difficult situations in everyday life.
My total absorption in the painting process was the stepping stone I needed to help cope with the trauma of becoming paralysed. Painting was my salvation, and now is my purpose in life.