ABILITY Magazine Archive

Dan Keplinger Spread from ABILITY Magazine - Dan wearing head-mounted paint brushDan "King Gimp" Keplinger interviewed by Chet Cooper

Dan Keplinger was the subject and writer of the Academy Award-winning documentary King Gimp, which follows Dan's life as he discovers his voice through art. In addition to an Oscar, the film also won a Peabody Award and was nominated for a national Emmy after airing on HBO.

In 2001, Dan was featured in a nationally acclaimed super bowl commercial for Cingular Wireless, promoting self-expression. USA Today ranked the commercial number one. Dan and Cingular were honored by Goodwill Industries with the Walter Knott Service Award for displaying outstanding humanitarian spirit. Dan's participation in the commercial earned Cingular a TASH Image Award for exemplary achievement in media.

Since being in the media spotlight, Dan has become a national speaker sought out by diverse groups. He has been the keynote speaker for federal agencies, state agencies, corporations and disability organizations.

ABILITY first met Dan at the National TASH conference, in which he was a keynote speaker along with Laura San Giacomo of Just Shoot Me. TASH (The Action Starts Here!) is an international association of people with disabilities, their family members, other advocates, and professionals fighting for a society in which inclusion of all people in all aspects of society is the norm. TASH awarded Dan and Cingular Wireless with an Image Award for promoting positive images of people with disabilities.

The second time we met with Dan, he was being presented with the Walter Knott Service Award by Goodwill Industries of Orange County. In recognition of Walter Knott's exemplary service to others, Goodwill created the award in order to honor significant persons or organizations for their humanitarian spirit. At the recent 23rd Annual Walter Knott Service Awards, Dan was honored along with a panel of nationally-known disability advocates.

Walter Knott was the founder of Knott's Berry Farm theme park in Buena Park, California. Chet Cooper and ABILITY's Alicia Lopez spent an afternoon there trying to keep up with Dan's appetite for the thrill-rides. Dan gave the park two thumbs up.

painting called: Self IVChet Cooper: When did you know art was going to be such an important part of your life?

Dan Keplinger: I always liked and did art, but in high school my teacher started to give me the tools to have art say what I wanted it to. My art speaks what I would be saying with words. It also says the feelings that are inside of me. Those feelings would make people close to me scared and worried about me. Maybe I want people to see these feelings, so they know everything is not happy in my world. Translating myself onto canvas became my language, something I needed to exist.

CC: How did you get involved in the making of King Gimp?

DK: When I was about 9, two documentarians decided to include me in their documentary about kids in the mainstream from different economic backgrounds. Even though I didn't meet their criteria of being mainstreamed, I made the cut. I guess their first encounter with me made them realize I wasn't an ordinary kid. So after the first documentary Beginning with Bong, Susan and Bill kept filming me. Then they took the idea to HBO and things avalanched from there.

CC: How has your life changed since winning an Academy Award?

DK: My artwork skyrocketed in the public eye. People are more willing to take time to understand me. I do not know if they now realize that I do have something to say, or if what I do say just blows them away. I have spent a year or more doing speaking tours talking to many different types of groups. Wherever I go people recognize me, particularly after I did the super bowl commercial. Inside I am still very much the same person, but it does feel good to be respected and appreciated for who I am. I hope that people who have seen King Gimp have gained this new awareness not only for me but for others who have physical disabilities.

CC: How much time do you spend on each painting?

Painting called: DarknessDK: I spend about a week doing the actual painting. My way of painting has changed since the documentary was done. I still use the headstick for painting, but I now paint on un-stretched canvas that is at least 4x5 feet. My friends cut the canvas and mix all of my paints at once. I paint from photographs and spend a lot of time looking at my extensive collection of photographs to see if I have something that hits me. If I don't, I take some more photos. If I still don't get the hit—find the inspiration—I use photoshop to cut and paste photographs together to create my subject and get the tones, shadows and shapes that I desire. It's kind of like setting up my own model or still life.

CC: What inspires you in picking a subject to paint?

DK: I just look for powerful feelings and emotions that give me a certain connection. My subjects have to have some connection with me, that can't come from the outside world. I look for the abnormal in normal life.

CC: I see that you have painted several self-portraits. Have you gotten to know that subject fairly well?

DK: I do a lot of self-portraits to find out what is inside of me. I might pick the image of myself and the colors to use, but I do not know how it will translate on the canvas. I think of my self-portraits as a visual diary. I do about two portraits a year and you can really tell how I was feeling during that time by the painting. People that know me are troubled by my self-portraits, because they do not relate how happy I am in real life. I think my self-portraits are the only way I can say what I feel inside. It's interesting that people can accept this in a painting but would probably be a bit freaked-out if I verbalized these feelings. The people who care about me would definitely start to worry. Have I gotten to know myself well through painting the self-portraits? I know I am reaching down very deep within myself to get these paintings. I still have a long way to go before I can say that I know myself.

CC: How can people see and buy your paintings?

DK: They can see and buy my work at the Phyllis Kind Gallery in Soho New York. Even if the gallery is not showing my work, it is still available to view by request. There are photos of my paintings on the gallery web site.

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