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Artist Antonio Davis is alive to complete a painting for an art exhibition aperture this ages at the Bridgeport Art Centermost blue-blooded “Some People” (Every) Body.
“This multidisciplinary activity examines the ethics, people, processes and systems that aggregate the aliment of, and barriers to, bloom for animal beings,” the centermost says of the show.
“The photographs, art and essays in this exhibition acknowledge what it is to be absolutely animal — birth, adolescence, family, compassion, athleticism, friendship, conflict, strife, brainy illness, harm, survival, marriage, parenthood, illness, injury, empathy, intimacy, disability, advantageous concrete limitations, end of activity and love.”
Paintbrush anxiously afraid amid teeth, Davis, who is quadriplegic, paints absolutely with his mouth. At times, he spends absolute canicule in the art flat in the two-bedroom address in Uptown he and wife, Juanita Butler, share.
She doesn’t afflict him. Afterwards 21 years of marriage, she knows the routine.
Davis, 44, has been disabled aback he was 19. He was blind out with his cousin, aback a assemblage affiliate who had a altercation with the accessory unleashed a barrage of bullets at the two.
It was Oct. 21, 1994. His cousin, Michael Davis, 26, was killed. The assassin went to prison.
“I was attempt in the chest eight times,” Davis says. “I woke up canicule afterwards to be told I would never be able to airing afresh and absolutely never be able to aces up a penny or a division because my easily were paralyzed, too.”
That began his journey. From the hospital, he went aback home to his distinct mother, who struggled to affliction for him, again to a nursing home — Atrium Bloom Affliction Center, in Rogers Park. He was 21.
Davis had been a standout basketball amateur and an appropriately able account artisan at Prosser Career Academy.
But activity got hard, he says, and he absent absorption in school, bottomward out his chief year to run the streets with his cousins. That was the alpha of his troubles.
After he was attempt and confused to the nursing home, his mother fled Austin, the West Side adjacency area he grew up, to try to accumulate her added son, six years younger, abroad from the streets.
“When I aboriginal got there, I wasn’t able to sit in my wheelchair for no added than four or bristles hours a week,” Davis says of actuality in the nursing home. “I couldn’t augment myself. I couldn’t dress myself. I couldn’t lift myself into my chair.
“But, afterwards about a year, I was able to sit up for eight hours at a time, advance myself as far as a block. So I was accepting physically stronger and mentally, too, because I was able to leave the nursing home and go alfresco after fear. It’s a brainy hurdle you accept to overcome, to go outside, because you’re accessible and feel like annihilation can appear to you.”
Then came addition acute day. Butler was visiting her ancestor in the nursing home. She saw Davis at the accession desk.
“For some acumen — to this day, I apperceive it was alone God — I saw this adolescent man who didn’t assume like he should be in a nursing home, absolved up, affective the aback of his wheelchair and spun him around,” Butler says.
“I said, ‘What are you accomplishing here?’ He said, ‘I alive here.’ And I said, ‘Oh, my goodness, we’ve got to get you out of here.’ ”
It angry out that Davis was Butler’s father’s roommate.
“When she spun me around, I was in shock, but her spirit aloof belted me. It was so pure, as if she was glowing,” Davis says, his articulation abatement as if transported back.
Five months later, Butler did get him out of there. The brace confused into the Nathalie Salmon House, a multigenerational, affordable-housing development in Rogers Park.
On June 27, 1997 — as Butler notes, “one year to the day we met” — they were married.
“I aloof knew we were declared to be together,” Butler says.
They were happy, activity they’d met their soulmate. Butler was his rock, Davis says.
But one can’t apprehend life’s curves. Butler started accepting sick. Aback and alternating to doctors yielded a analysis of lupus. She got sicker.
New diagnoses followed: systemic sclerosis, a attenuate lung disease; polymyositis, a degenerative beef disease; rheumatoid arthritis; hypertension; diabetes; and, recently, Raynaud’s phenomenon, with beneath claret apportionment angry to changes in temperature.
“It’s been absolutely arduous because I booty 32 pills a day. My bedmate now takes affliction of me. He told me to stop alive in 2004. He’s been the agent since,” Butler, aforetime a pediatric dental assistant, says with so abundant love.
That was about the time Davis was alien at a affliction bazaar to the accumulation Aperture & Foot Painting Artists, USA. It’s a accommodating founded by polio survivor Erich Stegmann in 1957 to advice painters with such impairments advertise their work.
“I was aggravating to acrylic and draw with my hands, but that didn’t assignment out too well,” Davis says.
Through MFPA, artists like Davis are able to advance their livelihoods. Many accept accomplished all-embracing acceptance for assignment produced with brushstrokes fabricated with the use of their teeth or toes.
Davis accustomed an MFPA scholarship and abounding Art in the Square, a since-closed North Side art school, for bristles years.
“I went from a amateur painter to full-fledged professional,” he says. “I acrylic in oils, and my accountable amount varies — from portraits to landscapes to wildlife and still life. I assignment for MFPA. They broadcast our assignment for greeting cards, calendars, prints, illustrated books. I’m accomplishing OK.
“I promised her, afore she angry 40, I’d buy her a home,” he says of his wife.
“And he did,” Butler says. “He bought our address by the time I was 37.”
Davis’ assignment has garnered boundless attention. He was featured on CBS News nationally aftermost December and on Steve Harvey’s appearance in February.
And he acquired a actual high-profile fan aftermost year: above President Barack Obama, whose account Davis painted.
“His abettor alleged us and said, ‘Obama would like to accommodated you,’ ” Davis says. “And on the appointed day, he flew out and met us at the Stony Island Arts Bank. It was great.”
“Yeah, but you’ve apparent how I run my mouth, and I’ll acquaint you I was absolutely tongue-tied,” Butler says. “I couldn’t alike accessible my aperture until Obama was about to leave, and I said, ‘Wait a minute!’ And I dug into my purse and affective my husband’s business agenda and said, ‘Can you accord this to Jay-Z?’ Obama starts arise up, laughing.”
“He told me, ‘You got a hell of a promoter!’ ” Davis angelus in.
From that moment on, the two accept been consistently arrive to Obama Foundation events, and both Davis and Butler are featured on the foundation’s website. Next month, the two are appointed to participate in career day at Michelle Obama High Academy in Park Forest.
And Davis continues to paint, advancing his access for the “Some People” (Every) Body display active Oct. 18-Nov. 15 at the Bridgeport center, 1200 W. 35th St. It’s an angel of a burst analgesic bond that evokes the burst bloom affliction system.
He and his wife absolutely accept the “barriers to health” to which the display flyer refers. But absorb aloof a moment with this brace and you wouldn’t apperceive it. Theirs is a adulation story, traversing all that the display flyer accurately addendum are the hallmarks of a abounding life.
“When I fell in adulation with him, at no point did I anytime think, ‘What am I accomplishing falling for a man in a wheelchair in a nursing home?’ ” Butler says. “My alone anticipation was: ‘How could I apperceive that addition this admirable is actuality and not react?’”
“No amount any obstacles that you face in life, you can affected them with the adroitness of God and perseverance. You aloof accept to accept in yourself,” her bedmate says.
“I feel like Antonio hasn’t alike accomplished area he’s declared to be,” his wife says. “I see so abundant in him, and I apperceive that alike greater is yet to come.”
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