Stanley Christopher doesn’t have time for pity. Christopher is paralyzed from the waist down after being ambushed and shot down in the streets of East Chicago, Indiana in his youth. At eighteen, upon release from the rehabilitation center, his major concern was to get back into the streets, and learn how to live with his limitations.
As he grew up in East Chicago, his life was filled with the love of family and friends. His neighborhood was home and familiar, and for a young child it was full of opportunities for mischief. As he aged, the hood was often perilous.
Christopher is proud of his familial roots, and says, “I am absolutely in love with my seven children.” His dad—a Baptist preacher, would take him along to the truck stop, and his uncle showed him how to take care of family, and to do what must be done. After a long bout with cancer his father died, never once complaining.
“Unlike me, they stayed focused,” Christopher said. “They did lay a foundation for me to follow, and eventually that gave me the direction to become more like them.”
His grandmother, “the apple of my eye,” lost the same leg as Christopher in a wagon wheel accident before she was eleven and his aunt, a double amputee due to “sugar diabetes, often told stories of back home as he sat on the floor,” he said. “They didn’t stop living because of that.”
After his right leg amputation in August 2012, Christopher expressed relief, “I felt great since I no longer feared my wounds would turn septic and kill me.”
Today Christopher’s life is defined not by his disability, but by his art. He combines visual art and writing for fuller expression. Much of his work reflects a cheerful brightness, though some works contain a marked darkness. Of the darkness, he said, “It’s the nature of the world we live in.”
Christopher weaves in the stories of his life throughout his art. Some pieces, such as “Matters of the Heart,” explore the dualistic nature of the light and darkness of being.
Moving on with life
After being shot, Christopher pondered what to do with his life. He took the G.E.D., passed the college entrance tests without studying, and enrolled at Indiana University. There another world opened up, changing his life. He studied fine arts, poetry, theater costume design, and multicultural studies. After nearly flunking his first semester, he honed his study skills becoming a regular on the dean’s list.
“I took to heart the advice of an older white woman, the mother of the friend who encouraged me to go to college: ‘Number one, immerse yourself in and get to know your school, and number two, plant your butt in the first row and give your undivided attention to the instructor. Get every bit of knowledge that you can.’ ”
He was elected the president of the Black Student Union and vice president of the student activity board. He developed a thirst for the arts by reading book after book in the literature, music, and visual arts sections he was assigned to tend at the university library. That voracious appetite for learning and the arts, he continues to satisfy as an avid life-long reader and art aficionado. The love of cooking prompted him to complete a culinary arts program at Indiana Vocational and Technical College.
Christopher moved to Minnesota in 1991, seeking a more vibrant arts community. He currently creates art and writes in the Twin Cities.
Art is real
Christopher draws, paints, and creates collages. He works in oils, acrylics, acrylic inks, water colors, colored pencils, and markers, creating surreal and unique images of the world around him. When asked if he has a favorite piece of art, he reflects, “I don’t really have one. I create a piece, I like it or I don’t, and then I move on to the next one. I am driven to create. My art is all over the place. It’s abstract, it’s surrealistic, sharp focus, it’s collages, it’s Renaissance-like, it’s self-portraits, and more… I simply create…” He’s created so many pieces that he has no idea how many.
The surrealism, “out of kilter weirdness,” and symbolism of Salvador Dali fascinated him and Picasso “was my hero.” The work of African American artist Romare Bearden made collage a viable art form for Christopher. Art has always been a part of who he is. His first memory is lying on the floor doodling with his finger in the throw rug, and “kind of weird” was his family’s description of him since he would just sit and draw. Studying and experiencing the art of the greats increased his thirst to create and experience art.
He writes mostly “loving” free form, haiku, sonnets, and fictional short stories. Currently he is writing his first novel, Time Shifts Time, after which he plans to compile the voluminous poetry he’s written into several books. In 2010 he self-published, A Sought After Love: A Collection of Sonnets.
Of his novel-in-progress, Christopher says, “It is difficult to categorize. It has some cultural history with a slice of sci-fi wrapped in a coming of age kind of context….The thing is the main characters are transported back to the antebellum south and I thought I would take the opportunity to weave in some slave narratives to kind of solidify the reader’s experience.”
Stanley Christopher currently lives in the Twin Cities.