BALTIMORE — Stroke by stroke, the comb glides over canvas, creating scenes that few may do by hand. Besides that this artist, Robert Florio, paints by mouth.
The quadriplegic Glen Burnie, Maryland, resident wields a brush hooked up to a mouthpiece, and paints by swiveling his head and neck — about the one components of his physique that can do as he asks.
It’s painstaking work for Florio, 40, who was injured as a youngster when he dived right into a pal’s 4-foot deep swimming pool and hit his head on the underside.
“I used to be a wild child who didn’t actually suppose issues by way of,” he stated.
The plunge broken his spinal cord and rendered his limbs ineffective. Twenty-six years later, Florio has solid a profession at his easel, portray every thing from athletes to aliens.
After the accident, he stated, “I felt, for six months, like I used to be in a cave. I believed, ‘Is there actually no hope?’ I didn’t surrender but it surely was, like, what do I do now? So I rewrote my life.”
A painter, he could be.
His likeness of Babe Ruth hangs within the slugger’s museum downtown. Florio has portrayed Ravens nice Ray Lewis and Orioles Corridor of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. He painted Jay Gibbons, gifting his work to the Orioles outfielder in a pregame presentation at Camden Yards in 2003. In flip, Gibbons handed Florio a bat inscribed: “Robert, Thanks for exhibiting me the true that means of life.”
Florio has executed vacation scenes as properly — considered one of two smiling snowmen in a wintry panorama, one other of a lovable dachshund carrying a Santa cap.
“My power degree is larger at Christmas,” he stated. “It’s a magical time.”
Florio has not misplaced hope of restoration. He has undergone stem cell therapies, amongst different therapies, and has tried meditation in efforts to stroll once more. He believes in extraterrestrials, partially as a result of he thinks they could have therapeutic powers higher than ours.
In the meantime, he has cobbled collectively a life all his personal, talking to youth teams, incomes a university diploma and even studying to play the guitar. Florio has tried stand-up comedy in, as he says, a sit-down place. He has carried out at a number of native golf equipment with an act that trolls the darkish humor of his destiny.
“Whenever you undergo laborious occasions, you attempt to see the lighter facet of it,” Florio stated. “As soon as, at a comedy membership, the headliner stated to me, ‘Rob, that nurse you introduced with you is absolutely sizzling. How do I get a nurse like that?’
“I checked out him, then again at myself and stated, ‘You gotta do that.’ He broke up laughing.”
Such banter helps maintain Florio going. Ask why his arms are lined with tattoos.
“Why not?” he stated. “Once I was getting [the tattoos], I didn’t really feel a factor.”
Ask his ideas on residing along with his dad and mom at age 40:
“Jesus was 33 when he moved again in along with his dad.”
In 2010, Florio self-published an autobiography, “Life! It Should Be A Comedy.” On the mud jacket, Ripken, his boyhood hero, wrote: “Robert is a tremendous younger man who redefines what it means to beat adversity. I think about myself fortunate to have met him.”
One other e-book is within the offing, a fantasy story of an otherworldly Santa Claus. Florio’s protagonist is a refugee from one other planet who involves Earth in a spaceship along with his “warrior-protector,” a reindeer named Purple. The storyline?
“Unhealthy youngsters took over Santa’s previous planet, so he got here right here,” stated Florio, who illustrated the work. “We see the magic he can do, behind the scenes, to heal individuals and assist them get up and say, ‘It’s time to repair our damaged planet.’”
A want to assist and to heal
There’s a healing theme to his efforts. Armed with a web based diploma from the Artwork Institute of Pittsburgh, Florio needs to create video video games for the disabled.
“Throughout rehab [at Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital], I used to be taken to a playroom the place youngsters had been enjoying video video games. I used to be advised, ‘We now have nothing tailored for you.’ My dream is to make a recreation for individuals who can’t use their fingers. I need to assist them heal.”
Artwork was an outlet lengthy earlier than calamity struck.
“It felt pure to me; I simply gravitated towards it,” Florio stated.
In first grade, he drew photos of ninja turtles and offered them to classmates for 50 cents apiece.
“I felt like I’d executed one thing nice and may have been rewarded for it,” he stated.
A member of Mouth & Foot Portray Artists, a world group, Florio has offered practically 100 work of landscapes, sunsets, flowers and canine, for as a lot as $100. His works, in watercolors, acrylics and oils, take as much as 30 hours to finish in what might be an arduous course of.
Robert Florio’s Web site: https://www.robertflorio.com/
“Typically my neck and mouth get drained and I’ve to cease,” he stated.
Ache is a given. Florio has had two spinal surgical procedures for the reason that accident to alleviate misery. Most of his neck has been fused. Nonetheless, he stays near his easel.
“Portray helps, although generally I simply don’t have the power or coronary heart to do it,” he stated. “Once I do, the method of creation produces a really uplifting emotion.”
Sleep brings a respite from actuality.
“All the time, once I dream, I’m strolling, usually on a tropical seaside,” Florio stated. “Then I get up and suppose, ‘Wow, that felt good.’”
Final 12 months marked the twenty fifth anniversary of his injury, a second that Florio acknowledged.
“It was one thing that I celebrated, a milestone for me to beat, an influence push,” he stated. “I look again now and suppose, man, I’m nonetheless alive.”
Alive, however not but kicking.
“Once I meditate, in an elevated state, generally I get tingling and shocks by way of my physique,” he stated. “I’m not imagining it.”
Whatever the future, Florio is definite of 1 factor:
“I really feel like I’m nonetheless stuffed with potential.”