Disabled artist wants to raise £50,000 to bring exhibition to schools

‘I have nowhere to go with all the love I have as a mother’: Artist Alison Lapper who posed pregnant for Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth says ‘part of her died’ after losing her son, 19, to a drug overdose

  • Alison Lapper, from Staffordshire, wants to raise £50K to bring touring exhibition to schools
  • The artist, who has no arms, wants to help those struggling with mental health
  •  After her son died from an accidental drug overdose, Alison uses art to cope

A disabled artist born with no arms wants to raise £50,000 to bring touring exhibition to schools to help those struggling with mental health- after son, 19 died of drug overdose.

Alison Lapper MBE, 57, from Staffordshire, creates incredible portraits using only her mouth and famously appeared on the landmark BBC documentary Child of Our Time in 2000 while pregnant with her son, Parys.

Following her sons death in 2019 from an accidental drug overdose, Alison uses art to cope and she is hoping she can help others who, like her son did, might be struggling with mental health problems.

Alison Lapper MBE, 57, from Staffordshire, who was born with no arms, wants to raise £50,000 to bring touring exhibition to schools to help those struggling with mental health

Following her son Parys’s death in 2019 from an accidental drug overdose, Alison uses art to cope and she is hoping she can help others who, like her son did, might be struggling with mental health problems

Born with a limb deficiency, the mum has shortened legs, and no arms due to a condition called phocomelia.

A cast of her pregnant body, created by artist Marc Quinn, was displayed on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth and has also been featured during the 2012 Paralympic Games opening ceremony.

Parys, who suffered from anxiety and depression and was known to self-harm, tragically died from a drug overdose.

‘When Parys died, I was devastated,’ Alison said.  

Alison spiralled into grief after her sons death but she now puts her energy into painting and recording podcasts 

The mum famously appeared on the landmark BBC documentary Child of Our Time in 2000 while pregnant with her son

Alison, who has shortened legs and no arms due to a condition called phocomelia, creates incredible portraits using only her mouth 

‘I went to see his body several times in the morgue, which I’m told is unusual, and I had him home the night before he was cremated.

‘I sat up with him all night. A piece of me died with him and I have nowhere to go with all the love and emotion I feel for my son.’

Speaking about her son’s mental health struggles, she added: ‘At first, he hid his pain.

‘I knew there was something wrong but he was just my funny and silly son, and I didn’t really notice how bad it was until the drugs took hold of him. 

‘Then I started to see the decline in his mental health. I now realise, I was watching him die in front of my eyes.’

Desperate to find a way to channel her pain, Alison turned to her love of painting, creating portraits of her beloved son, holding the paint brushes with her mouth.

She said: ‘I don’t have hands, so I don’t use my hands, I use my mouth.

‘Up until I was about 13, I used my foot but I had an operation on it so I changed it to my mouth. 

Alison went to see her sons body several times in the morgue and she had him at home where she sat up with him all night before he was cremated (Parys when he was younger)

She revealed her son hid his mental health problems and she didn’t notice how bad it was until ‘the drugs took hold of him’ 

She admitted she knew there was something wrong with her son but she was her ‘funny and silly son’ (Parys when he was younger)

Desperate to find a way to channel her pain, Alison turned to her love of painting, creating portraits of her beloved son, holding the paint brushes with her mouth

‘I’m quite a positive human being. I’m not, I can’t do this and I can’t do that, it’s “what can I do and what are the ways around it?”.

‘If I want to throw myself out of a helicopter I’ll damn well find a way.’

Alison has been fighting stigma about her disability all her life.

When young, she was placed into care with around 250 other disabled children, where during rare trips out strangers would offer her money because ‘they felt sorry for her’.

When she grew older, Alison made the decision to not use the prosthetics she had been given to aid her height as they only ‘made her life harder’.

Allison said she is quite a ‘positive human being. Revealing she always looks for ways around things she can’t do

 Alison has been fighting stigma about her disability all her life. She made the decision to not use the prosthetics she had been given to aid her height as they only ‘made her life harder’

She said: ‘Parys and I were literally judged every moment of every day.

‘I did whatever I could to protect him from that but it was really difficult, you’ve always got voices telling you how you should be raising your child.

‘That interferes a lot with you trying to be a mum, whether you have a disability or not.’

In honour of her son, Alison, together with Victoria Holden from Chalk Productions, has launched a new project called the Drug of Art. It is supported by YoungMinds and the Michael Aldridge Foundation.

Run by Chalk Productions, the project will leave a lasting legacy with art workshops and digital content to showcase the power art can have on people’s mental health and well-being. 

Alison keeps a picture of Parys next to a miniature bust representing her famous casting created by artist Marc Quinn

Alison mostly creates portraits of her beloved son, however she never painted him while he was alive 

As part of Alison’s exhibit she will also reunite with sculptor Marc Quinn.

She is also currently working with the support of British photographer Rankin together with Crowdfunder to raise £50,000 to take her project to local schools.

She hopes the project and touring exhibition she is doing this year will help people who, like her son did, might be struggling with mental health problems.

But above all, it is her outlet for coping with her ongoing grief.

The mum said: ‘I haven’t spoken to Parys for two and a half years, I’ve not had a hug, we’ve not laughed about something.

Up until she was about 13, she used her foot to paint but she had an operation on it so she changed it to my mouth

Allison hopes the project and touring exhibition she is doing this year will help people who, like her son did, might be struggling with mental health problems

‘I never painted him while he was alive. I thought he was so beautiful I could never do him justice.

‘Part of what I do is going into classrooms and working with young people and making them paint with their mouth or their foot.

‘Because if you get people out of their comfort zone, it sparks something.

‘Parys inspires me to help others.

‘In pieces I’ve created since his death, I look back and I see it – just us against the world.’

Alison beams as she speaks during a recording of The Drug of Art podcast which she has also been working on 

What is phocomelia?

Phocomelia is a rare condition that causes very short limbs and can vary in type and severity.

The condition might affect one limb, the upper or lower limbs, or all four limbs.  

Phocomelia is often related to issues during early pregnancy- specifically, within the first 24 to 36 days of life, the fetus begins to develop limbs. 

The underlying causes of phocomelia are unclear however it can be genetically passed down within families. 

It’s associated with an abnormality in chromosome 8 and both parents would need to have it to pass it down. 

There isn’t a current cure for phocomelia. However, the following forms of treatment can help manage symptoms:

Prosthetics- artificial limbs that are attached to the body can add length to an existing limb or replace an absent one.

Physical therapy -This type of therapy can improve movement, strength, and posture.

Surgery- to lengthen existing bones 

For more information visit: https://www.healthline.com/health/phocomelia 

 

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