Remarkable East Sussex mouth-painting artist offers Christmas inspiration

East Sussex-based mouth-painting artist Bazza West admits the hardest thing after his injury was to focus on the things he could do rather than the things he couldn’t.

Friday, 27th November 2020, 6:00 am
Bazza West
Bazza West

It’s a task that’s rather easier now. The fact is that Bazza has become a quite remarkable artist, one of the stars of the Mouth & Foot Painting Artists (MFPA) and an inspiration to people around the world.

During the first lockdown Bazza offered painting tutorials online; now, with Christmas approaching, he is offering his artwork on greetings cards, jigsaws and wrapping paper through the online Mouth & Foot Painting Artists’ Christmas shop, available at http://www.mfpa.ukAs Bazza says, for him MFPA has been central to finding the strength to carry on – and to flourish.

“I am still 100 per cent developing as an artist! I am still the teaboy in the art world. I have been painting for a long time now, but I still look at paintings by mouth-painting artists and just think ‘How on earth have they managed to do that! It’s incredible!’”

Bazza’s life changed in a moment.

As a young man Bazza was an active sportsman and by age 17 was running his own gardening business. Then, while driving his car, two years later, he swerved to avoid hitting a badger and slammed into a tree and broke his neck.

“I was paralysed from the age of 19 and can only move my head and shoulders. That was 1996, 24 years ago. And obviously, I was just really not knowing how I was going to live my life. I wanted to do all the things that I used to be able to do rather than thinking about what I could do. I was trying to focus my head.

“I was on a life-support machine for four and a half months. I also had skull traction. Where I broke my neck, they drilled both sides of my skull and hung weights off it to try to fuse the bones, to pull the bones back so that they would stay in the same position.

“As humans, we are not really programmed how to cope with every situation. Sometimes you are just thrown in at the deep end. You have just got to do whatever you have got to do. Before that, I just thought I was indestructible. Who doesn’t at that age? And then I was in hospital for 11 months.

“I had become quite institutionalised within the hospital and I was quite scared to come out but also excited. I just wanted to learn how to get on in the outside world and to believe in myself. It didn’t come easily. But you just have to find the inner strength that you don’t know you have.”

Bazza, who lives in High Hurstwood outside Uckfield, first dabbled in art as part of the rehabilitation process, learning control and new skills. When he could, he went into the adventure sports, scuba-diving, mountain-climbing in his wheelchair, skiing and so on: “That was about finding me, about learning who I am and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. And it just all built up to painting.

“MFPA have been fantastic. They have enabled me and they have believed I me.”

So much so that he positively wants his art to be seen – on greetings cards, jigsaws, wrapping paper and so on.

“And this is actually the pivotal time for us especially when you consider how the year has gone. We do our designs and the MFPA get them produced and make them available through their Christmas shop on their website and people can have them posted to their door. They don’t need to go to a shop. They can just order them directly.

“100 per cent MFPA have given me confidence. They have given me the financial background. I have got three children, aged 16 and 13 and four years old, and life is pretty hectic in the West household – which is great! It keeps us sane… or insane, whichever way you want to look at it!

“But MFPA have given me the confidence and the encouragement to develop my creative skills, and I want my work to be in front of people.”

As he says, it’s not just a case of buying any old box of cards for a pound; this is inspirational art with a real story behind it and a real purpose underpinning it.

The MFPA is an organisation that provides its talented artists with the opportunity to become financially independent and to achieve self-fulfilment by turning their artistic skill into a career.

For over 60 years, the MFPA has reproduced the original artworks of its disabled artists into Christmas cards, calendars and other seasonal products, which are available to purchase online.

To support Bazza and his fellow MFPA artists, this year’s Christmas cards (and a selection of other festive products) are available online at http://www.mfpa.ukBazza’s tutorial is available to watch at: https://www.mfpa.uk/news-events/learn-to-paint-with-bazza-west-mouth-artist/