Painting frees paralyzed man to express himself

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DORA –Telfia Williams becomes animated and his face lights up when he talks about art and how it has affected his life.

Williams is one of the 53 artists selected to show their work in the upcoming Walker County Artist Showcase at the Bankhead House and Heritage Center that begins on Tuesday.

He is originally from New York City but moved to Dora with his family in 2004.

On Dec. 30, 2009, he had a car wreck that changed his life. The impact broke his back, and it left him paralyzed. He uses a wheelchair to move around.

“It could have been worse, but it’s manageable,” Williams said.

He’s always been artistic. “As a child, I would draw, or I thought I could anyway,” he said as he smiled. He took some art classes from when he was younger, but said he never took it seriously.

After the accident, he began looking for outlets of expression. He started painting in 2017. Williams tried using oil paint, but it took too long to dry. When he switched to acrylic, he knew he’d found his medium.

“I did five pieces, but I was just messing with it,” he said. He later discovered an abstract impressionist artist name, Ty Nathan Clark.  “I was blown away by his work,” he said. One piece of Clark’s work was entitled, "I am a mess, but I’m OK, thanks." 

“When I looked at this piece, it made me emotional,” Williams said. “It is a beautiful thing.” 

Williams never talked with Clark but exchanged messages on Instagram, giving him a chance to complement Clark.

“I told him how dope his work was,” Williams said. “He’s a real cool dude, and he responds back.”

Williams did his first abstract painting shortly afterward and has been creating abstract arts since then.

He works with acrylic paint using brushes and a squeegee. He likes texture in his work. Writing on his work looks almost like graffiti. “It’s not graffiti. It’s just something that’s on my mind at the time,” he explains. 

Some painters use lofts and warehouses to create their work. Williams’ studio is a tiny room next to the kitchen and back deck.

Using a regular easel proved to be problematic for Williams. While watching videos of other artists, he noticed that artist Nicholas Wilton used six nails driven into the wall to hang his canvases. A cousin of Williams helped him with the project, and it worked out perfectly.

He began selling a few pieces of his work via Instagram, but he’d never showed his work publicly. 

Then Barbara Medders, the  Bankhead House and Heritage Center coordinator, happened to meet Williams, who works at The Home Depot. “It was a God thing,” Medders said.

She’d ordered a gift for her son-in-law, and it had become lost in the Christmas shuffle. She went to The Home Depot to find a replacement gift.

“He came wheeling up in his chair, and I asked if he could help me,” she said. She explained that the original gift she’d bought had gotten lost in the debacle with FedEx at Christmas time. 

As he took her to the section to find a replacement, he mentioned that the same thing had happened to him when he shipped some artwork to Canada. This piece of information excited her because she was helping to recruit artists for the upcoming art exhibit. “You’re an artist?” she asked. He told her he was, and she asked for pictures of his work. 

Williams showed her his Instagram page. “I asked if he’d be interested in showing at the Bankhead House,” she said. He told her he would be honored. Williams took her card and put it in his wallet and thought no more about it until Medders contacted him about a week later. He was ecstatic. “I never thought it would be shown anywhere,” Williams said.

The first thing that Williams does when he’s about to work on a painting is to throw on his headphones and crank up his playlist of African House Music, Middle Eastern instrumental music, or maybe Miles Davis.

With music playing in his head, he starts work by washing his canvas with a background color first, but it never stays that color.

“My mind is everywhere. I’m thinking about this, I’m thinking about that,” he said. “I might be thinking about what I’m going to cook tomorrow, or what I’m going to wear tomorrow. Is my mom, OK? Is my daughter, OK?”  His process was why his Instagram page is named The Arts of My Thoughts. “Everything starts from a thought,” he added. You keep feeding those first thoughts, and it becomes an idea before evolving into a work of art, according to Williams.

He knows when a piece is done when he steps back and is satisfied with what he’s created.

A lot of people that follow Williams on social media don’t know that he is paralyzed from the waist down from the auto accident, because he doesn’t discuss it. He lets his work stand on its own. “While I’m painting, that all goes out the window. I don’t think about being paralyzed,” he said. 

He’s not sure where all this interest in his work will lead, but there’s one thing that he knows for sure, “If it takes me places, that would be nice, but I just want to paint.”

An opening reception will be held for the Walker County Artist Showcase Tuesday from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Bankhead House and Heritage Center. The exhibit runs through April 17. Admission is free.