Together We Rise

I’ve always loved drawing, although as a child this was complicated by my obsessional impulses. I needed every picture to be perfect, which meant that I’d start again if there was even a tiny mistake. The process took ages and used a lot paper!

That didn’t put me off though, and as teenager my love of art expanded to include painting too. It felt amazing to find something that could absorb me for hours and that I felt good at. I went on to study at Art College and loved every minute.

As my tics intensified, particularly those in my arms, certain ways of making images became trickier. If I ticced at the wrong moment, a drawing could be ruined, which was frustrating, and paintings would often end up with less colour on them than me. I got used to the idea that drawing was no longer something for me.

This is a close-up picture of Jess Thom – a white woman with curly brown hair. She is lying in her bed which has beautifully printed deep blue bed sheets with illustrations. Jess is holding an Apple Pencil in one hand and is balancing another iPad on her lap in the other. She is looking down at her iPad smiling. She is wearing a colourful hooded sweatshirt decorated in a graffiti-style paint splatters of azure blue, crimson, orange and yellow.

Then a couple of years ago I got an iPad and suddenly drawing not only became possible again, but really enjoyable too. I no longer had to work as quickly as I could to outpace my tics – instead I could go slowly and be more detailed, all thanks to the magic ‘undo’ button.

During lockdown, drawing’s been a crucial creative outlet for me, and I draw almost every day. I’ve created countless images from the safety of my own home. But one of the few things I’ve missed about working with actual paint is being able to create images at big scale. All changed recently when I was commissioned to design a mural celebrating the Paralympics.

A photograph of Jess in front of the mural she designed for Citibank's partnership with the Tokyo Paralympics in Shoreditch. Jess is a white woman in her forties with short curly brown hair wearing an aqua blue matching tracksuit and nike fly ease trainers. She is using a blue RGK wheelchair. In the background the mural, which was painted by street art collective Graffiti Life is in a bold graphic style.

I created the image on my iPad and it’s been painted on a wall in Shoreditch by street art collective Graffiti Life. Without the right tools or support this mural wouldn’t have been possible, with them not only was it possible but it was straightforward and enjoyable.

A photograph of Jess’s Citibank Paralympics Mural painted on a corner in Shoreditch in London by art collective Graffiti Life. The mural is in a colourful bold graphic style and depicts Paralympian’s taking part in their various sports such as canoeing, cycling, table tennis and swimming. At the top of the mural there is text which reads ’Together We Rise’. The capitalised font of the word ‘Rise’ contains flags of the countries from all over the world including Ireland, Australia, Japan, Ecuador and South Africa.

During the pandemic there have been moments when I’ve felt invisible, both personally, and in my experiences as a disabled person more broadly, whether that’s shielding for months on end or being repeatedly overlooked within crucial announcements. Creating this mural was an important opportunity to claim space and celebrate disabled people’s achievements on a grand scale.

As well as featuring Paralympians from around the world, I was also keen that the image communicated something that’s important to me, so I included the slogan ‘Together we rise’ to highlight the power of acting collectively.

You can find out more about my mural, and three others located in New York, Mexico City and Hong Kong, here. You can also listen to image descriptions of all the murals, which can be accessed on location via a QR code, or are available here.

I’ve previously described my experience of the pandemic as a long, uncertain journey through space. Collaborating on this mural has felt a bit like coming back to earth, working with other people to bring disabled joy to the heart of the city I call home.

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