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Patrick Botto - Painting the way to a new life

Patrick (48) is an artist in George. He is quadriplegic and an Associate Member of the Mouth and Foot Painters Association. Patrick lives with his partner and their son in George and he paints every day. He tells the story of his accident and how art has transformed his life.

“When it happened, I’ve just bought a house in Pretoria. I was a policeman, so life was just starting, I was just building a future for myself. And then the accident happened. We were all under the influence of alcohol, so that was the main reason for the accident. One of my colleagues passed away, and I broke my neck from it. So, after that, it was almost like a straight downward spiral – almost like a black hole. You can’t see any positiveness. One moment you have everything going for yourself, the next moment you can’t lift up your own arms. 

“So, I had nothing to look forward to, basically. I had a lot of questions, about what’s the use of living. You almost feel like a vegetable, you know. You’re like in the way of everybody, banging into things… Also because everything must be done for you now. You must be washed. You must be dressed, your teeth must be brushed… All the little stuff. From a man’s point of view, it’s almost like taking your manhood from you. That, for me, was really tough.

“I broke my neck between the fifth and the fourth vertebrate. I was in hospital for eight months. a month in Pretoria and the other seven months in Conradie Hospital in Pinelands. I had extensive sessions in physio and with an occupational therapist. So I regained a little bit of movement in my arms, but not the wrists. So I can just lift the arms. There’s no wrist movement in this hand, and I regained a little bit of wrist movement in this hand. But nothing in the fingers. If I want to use my phone, my thumb is normally just straight so I can press it. Otherwise, I pick it up and use my tongue. 

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"My relationship with the Lord helped me to get my thinking right. Everything in life is a decision.”

“But the one thing that helped me and brought me out of this was my relationship with the Lord. With Jesus Christ. I started going to the Bible, just trusting the Lord, accepting it with a genuine heart and just going for it. My relationship with the Lord helped me to get my thinking right. Everything in life is a decision. You make a decision to wake up, you have a decision do you want to brush your teeth, if you want to dress, do I want to eat… Every little thing is like a decision. So, once I got that mentality thing right, the Lord really opened doors for me. Because I never knew that I had that something in me, that I could paint. You know, I was a policeman – I had no painters, no people who could do art in my family. 

“This is my 26th year in a wheelchair. For the last 15 years, I’ve started saving a lot and doing a lot of little things that I can save and generate extra income, to buy a house one day. I don’t have any family in George, but my work is here, the Mouth and Foot Painters office. I started in 1998 with art classes in the Bellville library. In the year 2000, I got accepted as a student at the Mouth and Foot Painters Association. I was a student for 15 years, and then they promoted me to Associate Member. So I’m busy working a little bit now for a full membership. 

“I basically paint almost everything except portraits. It’s not that I can’t paint a portrait, but I’m a very realistic painter. What I see is what I want to paint. But with portraits, it’s a little bit of a tricky thing because if I do animals and stuff, this buffalo or lion can’t say, ‘my ear’s to the right’ or ‘my nose is a little bit skew’! I’m not that comfortable [with portraits], I don’t have a lot of training in it and it always takes me so long to do one. That’s why I do landscapes, seascapes, animals, flowers, still life… If I do people, it’s like from the side or from the back, or in the distance. I can’t paint out of my head, you see, I’m not that advanced.

“I like to paint pictures that connect with people. I don’t always just paint the stuff that I like, because I know there are people that have other taste also in art. I also try to just glorify Him in every painting that I do. Because of what He has done for me, what He is still doing for me, and what I know He’s still going to do for me.”

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