From The Frederick News Post
Dan Keplinger is a Maryland-based artist who developed cerebral palsy in his infancy and paints using a brush attached to his head. He holds two degrees from Towson University and was the subject of the Academy Award-winning documentary “King Gimp.” On Wednesday, he’ll make an appearance at the Weinberg Center for the Arts, where he’ll give a live painting demonstration and participate in a question-and-answer session. In person, he communicates through a translator, and he uses assistive technology to text and email.
The Frederick News-Post caught up with him last week via email.
Have your physical challenges influenced your perspective as an artist? If so, how?
My disability is why I am an artist; it is how I communicate with the world without having a translator. I started painting portraits, because everyone was amazed at how well I could capture emotions. I think this is because being disabled, I needed to learn how to read people from an early age. It is hard to trust people, if you cannot figure them out. In my later work, I started to morph my body and chair together, because most of society sees my disability before me as a person. More importantly, the new work is also about obstacles in my life. I think everyone has obstacles in life and needs to learn how let the small ones go and just overcome the big ones.
How does painting empower you?
Art gives me an outlet to express the emotion I have inside of me. Sometimes there are no words to express how I feel, and if I did, these emotions might be too much for people to handle. If you look at my work throughout the years, one could see the ups and downs in my life.
When did you start painting? How did you discover that it was a passion for you?
I always liked and did art, but in high school at the age of 16, my teacher started to give me the tools to have art say what I wanted it to. My art says what I would be saying with words. It also speaks the feelings that are inside of me. Those feelings would make people close to me scared and worried about me. Maybe I want people to see these feelings so they know everything is not happy in my world. Translating myself onto canvas became my language, something I needed to exist.
Who are your favorite artists and why?
The two artists that I look to are Chuck Close and Philip Guston. I look at Close because of the style he works in. A lot of his work is huge and made up of smaller shapes. … (Y)ou cannot see the whole picture until you are halfway across the room. Just as my pieces, you do not get the impact of my work until you see them from afar. But up close, you can see each mark I make.
I like Phillip Guston’s work, because he developed his iconography to talk about the world around. The symbols might represent him, or something in his life. Just as I have (come) up with symbols to represent objects in my own life.
Which of your paintings are you most proud of and why?
“Self I.” I did this painting in high school. I think it shows both sides of me. … I always say this would be my flag when I take over the world.
Why did you decide to participate in “King Gimp”? How has your life changed since the documentary?
I just did it to break stereotypes of disabilities in films and in life in general. The producers and I really did not know what directions the story would take, but I just kept breaking down barriers. … Although people still stare at me, some people still just see my disabilities and others see the accomplishments that I have done with my life.
How often do you participate in events like the one planned for the Weinberg Center? What do you hope attendees take away?
I do these types of engagements as often as I can. I would like to make a career out of these events but might average seven to nine a year. I see these events as a way to educate the public about the disabled community, but not hitting them over the head with it. I think there are a few different messages from my gig. Most importantly, I would like people to realize that everyone has something to contribute to society. Even though most of these deeds go unnoticed, they do have an impact.
What: King for a Day, a free event, will feature a painting demonstration by Dan Keplinger. He will also answer audience questions. The documentary “King Gimp” will be playing during the event. After the demonstration, the group Service Coordination Inc. will recognize Maryland businesses who support individuals with disabilities.
When: 3 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 30
Where: Weinberg Center for the Arts, 20 W. Patrick St., Frederick