Since 1956, the Mouth & Foot Painting Artists association (MFPA) has been an inspiration to able-bodied and disabled art lovers alike. GEORGE LUKE meets two of its talented artists
“I’VE BEEN a painter all my life,” says Tom Yendell, one of MFPA’s artists who recently exhibited their work at the Greenbelt festival. “I started when I was little and wasn’t very academic in school. But I loved my art, and luckily had very good art teachers. They encouraged me and I went to art college.”
Tom (who was born without arms or hands, due to the drug Thalidomide) runs the MFPA gallery in Selborne, Hampshire.
“Selborne’s a very touristy village,” explains Tom. “It’s famous for a naturalist called Gilbert White, who wrote The Natural History of Selborne. We have Captain Oates’ museum there as well. We share our gallery with 18 able-bodied artists. It’s quite a diverse mix.
“I’ve been involved with MFPA
since 1987. I started with them as a student artist and was a student until 1996; I’m one of the member artists now.
“We have a sort of a ladder; you start as a student, then you become an associate and then a full member. Ian Parker – the other artist exhibiting here at Greenbelt with me – is a student right now. There are 120 full members around the world, and they run the association. We’ve got 720 artists in 77 countries.”
Tom and his wife Lucy have two children, Joseph and Holly. “I’ve always had a faith,” he says. “I grew up in a Christian family; we went to chapel when we were very small and I went when I was in boarding school.
“I’m not someone who goes to church every week, but I do have a deep faith, and that’s actually grown. I’m involved with a charity in Ghana and I’m building a college there at the moment.
“My faith, I think, has grown since I’ve been involved in doing that. From visiting Ghana, I’ve seen that life isn’t about what you have or don’t have. It’s about what you do for other people, and how you interact with them. And I put that down to my faith.”
Ian Parker joined MFPA in 1993, and his work has been printed around the world. “You never know where that’ll happen,” he says. “I’ve had several done in places such as Poland, Scandinavia, French Canada and Japan. That’s been exciting.”
Ian was born with a medical condition in which the joints are permanently fixed.
“I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember,” he says.
“I always liked picking up a pen or a pencil and drawing away; if I had any excuse to draw, I’d take it. Painting was a different. I had to take up painting if I wanted to do art as an exam, so I started painting when I was about 12.
“I never used to like it much because it was always messy. I could never control it like drawing. But I had to master it to be able to do the exam. And I think in a way I prefer painting even more than drawing now!”
After completing A levels and an art foundation course, Ian moved from Crawley where he was born and raised, to Stoke-on-Trent, where he completed a degree course in Fine Art. In college he met Mary, to whom he is now married. They have two children, and Ian says Christianity is a very important part of his life.
“My family’s from a church background, but I came to faith myself when I was in school,” he says. “We had some care staff there; they were Christians and became good friends.
“As I got to my teenage years I hit a lot of problems. But I found out that they were continuing to pray for my friends and myself. This was around 1985-86, and this was when I became a Christian.
“I always say my art is a gift that God’s given me, and it’s up to me to make the most of it. People sometimes look at people with disabilities, and you get this, ‘Aw, I feel really sorry for you.’ Well, you don’t need to!
“I’m really blessed in what I do. And if I can share that gift of painting with others and encourage them through that – as well as through what I say – if by my life and work I can encourage people, then that’s worth it.”