Mouth-painter's masterpieces spread inspiring messages

2016-11-22 18:05
Brenton Swartz in action. (Tammy Petersen)

Brenton Swartz in action. (Tammy Petersen)

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Cape Town - Brenton Swartz’s strokes are precise, clean, and controlled as he moves his head with a brush firmly between his lips.

The 38-year-old quadriplegic does not talk while he works because he uses his mouth to create his colourful masterpieces, an art he has honed over the past eight years.

On Monday, tiny eyes were trained on the wheelchair-bound painter as he worked on a jazz-themed piece in an arts-and-craft session at the Sibongile Day & Night Centre in Khayelitsha.

Inspired by his measured movements as he mixed his colours and stayed within the lines of his pencil sketch, little ones with a range of disabilities used brushes and even their fingers to mimic his movements, creating little artworks of their own.

Swartz, from Atlantis, took up painting in 2008 after completing his diploma in architecture and having difficulty finding a job.

He always had a love for drawing.

“When I was still walking and able to use my hands, I used to sketch a lot. The only difference now is that I use my mouth,” Swartz said.

He starts his creations by doing an outline with a pencil, and then paints with an extended brush, to which he attaches a rubber band at the end to bite on.

“The head is actually much steadier than the hand,” he explained.

His talent has seen his work reproduced and printed on cards, calendars, and mugs in Switzerland.

He is part of the Foot and Mouth Painters Association, and is the recipient of a bursary which allows him to buy his material and pay for his art lessons.

“There are so many different styles and I want to learn them all. There is no major difference between those who paint with their mouths and those who use their hands – it takes a bit longer, but the outcome is the same. 

“With time you develop your skill. My first painting of a simple flower took three months, but now I am able to finish a piece within a week.”

Swartz became a quadriplegic at the age of 15 when he was hit in a shooting in Atlantis. Despite spending almost a year in hospital, he returned to school and finished his matric.

Twenty-two years later, he considers himself mostly self-reliant.

He lives at the Andries Olivier Durbanville Quadriplegic Centre along with 11 other disabled residents.

The group runs the facility themselves, with the assistance of able-bodied staff.

“It’s so much better to be in charge of your own life. We’re adults; we know what we want and how we want it. I am able to do everything from buying groceries to overseeing the maintenance of our vans,” he said.

Swartz hopes to inspire the children to not allow their disabilities to stand in the way of doing what society thinks they can’t.

“Even if you end up in a wheelchair, anything is still possible. It’s not the end of your life. There are so many things you can accomplish.

“Many of my goals I achieved after being confined to my wheelchair. This didn’t come in the way of me completing my schooling, going to university, and travelling. Just like art, all it takes is a little patience.”

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Read more on:    brenton swartz  |  cape town  |  health  |  good news

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