Drawing of a man in a half lying pose with his head raised. The style is colourful and reflects Aztec or Mexican styling, the face is colourfully exposed to show the eye, jaw, teeth and brain. There are people who look like trees moving up the figure. The figure has one hand pointing upwards. The colours are bright.

A psychedelic version of Kes

Published 13th March 2024

Disability Power 100 finalist, Jason Wilsher-Mills’s new solo show at the Wellcome Collection.

Celebrated in the 2023 Disability Power 100, Jason Wilsher-Mills has much to look forward to in 2024. With a new solo exhibition opening at the Wellcome Collection and involvement with SHAPE Arts’s pavilion of British artists with disabilities at the Venice Biennale.

Disability Power 100 spoke to Jason about his art and how his acquired disability at age 11 became his benefactor – giving him the space and time to be creative in his head. “Like Pip in Great Expectations it took me down a different path from the life that might have been.”

Born to proudly working-class parents and surrounded by love and humour, his parents’ lives were marked by physical hard labour. The youngest of eight children, Jason remembers meals around a table, parents that wanted the best for their children and an overwhelming sense and joy of being loved.

A drawing of Jason's mum as a mermaid, she is surrounded by colourful jellyfish, starfish, seaweed, and a stylised fish. The fish has an old fashioned wooden crutch. Jason's mum is wearing a floral patterned tank top and has dark hair. Overall the picture is different shades of blue and green with pink and yellow highlights.

Mum as a mermaid, 2023 © Jason Wilsher-Mills

Illness in 1980, and paralysis from the neck down combined with a potentially terminal diagnosis, changed Jason and the family’s lives. But could not extinguish his creative spark. His parents, and particularly his mother, fought for him to live at home and attend school. And it is this mother love that inspired his colourful style. “Mum would paint my face, it was the only bit I could feel, I could feel the brush and the colours had the power to change my appearance.” Across Jason’s art you can see reflections of his mother’s colourful contouring in his psychedelic figures.

Success has taken hard work, and Jason jokes it took him “15 years to become an overnight success”. But now an internationally acclaimed disabled artist, Jason really warms when he speaks about his work with other disabled artists. In 2021 he worked in Japan with a group of disabled artists – honing not just their artistic skills, but their sense of self and place in an inaccessible world. And it is this work he hopes to continue.

“As a creative kid, a working-class kid, my disability gave me opportunity to change my future, if I can share that enthusiasm with one other young disabled person, show them the way, that’s what I want. To pass it on.”

And that’s why we are so proud to have Jason Wilsher-Mills as a Disability Power 100 finalist.

Jason’s exhibition, Jason and the Adventure of 254 takes place between 21 March 2024 and 12 January 2025. The major solo exhibition will showcase his largest and most personal commission to date, this free exhibition will be a joyful and subversive exploration of the body, and the artist’s memories and reimagining of the hospital ward.

Challenging stereotypes and perceptions of disability, medicine and the human body the exhibition has step-free access to all floors of the building. Large-print guides and magnifiers are available in the gallery. Ear defenders, tinted glasses, tinted visors and weighted lap pads are available on request. A digital highlights tour is available with audio described and British Sign Language tours of the exhibition. All exhibition texts are accessible in screen readable formats via QR codes. A tactile floor line can be used to follow the digital tour’s route. A Visual Story is available to help you plan and prepare for your visit.

Images are reproduced with kind permission of Jason Wilsher-Mills.

Images featured:

Untitled, 2023 © Jason Wilsher-Mills

Mum as a mermaid, 2023 © Jason Wilsher-Mills

Jason Wilsher-Mills, Jason and the Adventure of 254 at Wellcome Collection, 21 March 2024 – 12 January 2025

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