Q&A with Artist Dan Keplinger
When you meet an exceptional artist it’s natural to want to pick his or her creative brain. So we interviewed Dan Keplinger, a one-of-a-kind artist fighting the ongoing battle with Cerebral Palsy. Dan Keplinger lets us into his unique artistic journey through a fun interview that was nothing short of inspiring.
Towson University ’98 B.S. in Mass Comm,’03 B.S. in Art and ’07 M.F.A. in Studio Art.
I am a self-employed artist and motivational speaker. I mostly speak at schools, colleges and disability organizations. Although I speak on disability topics, my story can really relate to a wide range of audiences because I focus on overcoming obstacles in order to reach your goals.
When did you first realize you had a passion for art?
In my first high school art class when I was 16. The teacher did not think I was getting what he was teaching, because I could not use a pencil or charcoal like the other students, so he agreed to work with me after school. For my first piece I painted with sponges attached to my headstick. My teacher was shocked to see that I could understand the concepts that he was showing to the class. This was the first time I could express my raw feelings, for everyone to see.
“Success” is one of the pieces that I’m especially proud of, as it’s one of the first works I ever completed in high school.
You’ve been recognized for creating a style of art that is uniquely Dan Keplinger. What’s your process for creating your works?
I’ve always wanted to become a complete artist, exploring the use of different mediums and expanding my way of communication. Part of my process is to continually grow my vocabulary into different dialects of the art world, but keep the same message.
I do not think art can be forced. A lot of my ideas come to me as I walk/roll to my studio. When I get to my studio, the ideas just flow out onto the canvas or what ever medium I’m working with. To me, art is about what you have to say and how you want to say it.
In 2000, you were the main subject and writer of the Oscar winning documentary “King Gimp.” You often refer to yourself under this name. What does “King Gimp” mean to you and how has the documentary changed the trajectory of your career?
“King Gimp” definitely gave my art a boost, giving me the opportunity to introduce it to the world. But it was also hard work to make the waves keep coming in. For about 7 years I would do about 30 pieces of art every year, even as the sales declined, I was still keeping people interested in the art and drawing good crowds at my shows.
Through my growth over the years, I have maintained a good platform to raise more awareness for the disabled community. At my appearances, I used to mainly show the film “King Gimp” and take a few questions. Now, I try to have the audiences view the film before my appearance so I can have more time to share my philosophy on life.
Many people look to your success for inspiration, but who inspires you and why?
I look toward people that I have a connection with such as Christy Brown, Philip Guston and Josh Blue. All three were like me – they pushed the limits. Brown was before his time, because back then people with CP just sat around not doing much with their lives. Brown was a painter and a writer. Brown’s family kept his art in their private collections, so one day Wifey and I will make a pilgrimage to Ireland to view his art.
Guston was an artist during the Abstract Expressionist movement, but he basically walked away from that success to create his own style. He came up with his own iconography to discuss his life and what was happening in the world around him, which you can see relates to my later work.
When I saw comedian and artist, Josh Blue on TV, I knew he would be the next one to pick up the torch. He is a funny guy, but has a mission in life. I think we met in ‘07 and now when he comes near Maryland we have fun and talk about how much more there is to do for the disability culture.
In your documentary, you said people couldn’t understand there was an intelligent person inside of your body and art helps you communicate to the world. What advice would you give to someone else struggling to find his or her voice?
Just follow your passion; your passion becomes your goal. When you have a goal there is nothing that can stop you from reaching it. Everyone has something to contribute to society no matter how small. Someone could be having a bad day and something as simple as holding a door open for him or her could change his or her whole attitude for that day.
Besides film and art, what other passions do you have?
Travel. Every time Wifey and I go for a speaking engagement we drive and the trip always takes double the time. We stop at every little town store, or if there is a booth on the roadside, we stop to check it out.
What was your last travel destination?
Wifey and I went to Fort Worth, TX, to see her family. This was Wifey’s mom’s first visit to America from Vietnam and her father came from California. This was the first time that Wifey’s parents had seen each other in 30 years, so it was an emotional visit with a lot of laughs and yummy food.
You speak a lot about advocating for one’s self and others with disabilities. What’s the most important message you want people to come away with after hearing you speak?
I am not really some type of “hero.” I think anyone can achieve what they want out of life. People just need to find their passion and that will be the fuel for their journey.
What’s next for Dan Keplinger? Any interesting tour dates or exhibits we should anticipate?
I’m participating in the Towson Arts Collective’s Members Exhibition, June 8–July 26. The exhibit is located at 40 W. Chesapeake Avenue in Towson, Maryland and is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from noon-5 p.m. and by appointment.
I have also been busy with speaking engagements. In the next month, I will be doing a mini tour of Maryland. The majority of these dates are for a speaker series through Service Coordination. I do have other dates that I will be appearing in Maryland, listed on my web site.
Also, my family and I just opened a shop called Brewport Games, dedicated to the greatest card game ever created: “Magic: The Gathering”! Our daughter Brooke and her boyfriend Charles, came to us with the idea and now Brewport Games (1826 E Joppa Road in Parkville, MD) is the premier gaming store in Baltimore! We sell cards and host games and other fun events.
The store gives my family a dependable income while still allowing me and Wifey to travel for speaking engagements. In July, I will be speaking at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for the Department of Occupational Therapy.
If someone wanted to book you for a speaking engagement, how would they go about doing so?
Lastly, how would one go about viewing or exhibiting your work?
Please view my art on my online gallery at www.kinggimp.com and visit often for tour and exhibit dates.