By Ted Gregory
In the past couple of years, about 20 paintings by Mariam Pare have been reproduced and sold internationally.
In February, she’ll be a featured artist in two shows. And, any day now, she expects to take a job that will pay her a comfortable salary to paint.
Those are intoxicating developments for any artist, especially Pare.
She paints with a brush in her mouth.
That’s how she has created art since 1997, a year after a stray bullet struck her spinal cord while she was driving and she watched her hands drop from the steering wheel.
In that instant, a promising young artist from Naperville, Ill., became a quadriplegic.
Pare, 38, has risen from that hopeless place by tapping the mysterious neurological pathways that allow creative expression to flow through a broken body.
Today she is an arts activist and teacher who survived a life-changing plunge into Lake Michigan while strapped in a wheelchair.
She’s also part of an exacting, profit-driven group of artists with disabilities who see in their work financial independence and life purpose.
“I paint out of … necessity, a compulsion,” Pare said one afternoon while working on a painting of a woman floating in a bubble. “I love doing it so much that I don’t think I have a choice in the matter really.” She laughed. “I paint because I love to paint.”
When she’s not struggling through daily life, working to expand community outreach for art or promoting its therapeutic value, Pare paints in a 10-by-10 room in a second-floor apartment near Naperville Road and Ogden Avenue.
She says if she were unable to paint with a brush loosely set between her teeth on the right side of her mouth, she probably would wear a helmet with a paintbrush and make that work.