The Alhambra’s “Wheels Up” exhibition features works of art by Martin Vogel and others.
At the age of 21, Martin Vogel was kicked out of rehab after a life-threatening motorcycle racing accident that left him paralyzed from chest to toe.
He knew that newly paralyzed adults often suffer from depression and have difficulty adjusting to their new situation.
“The wheelchair can be a nightmare for some people, like wearing a pair of lead shoes,” he said.
As Vogel lay in his hospital bed after his accident, he decided he would need to change his outlook on life. He realized he couldn’t compare his new life as a paraplegic to his old life.
What struck him was that he was given an opportunity that most people will never have: a whole new life.
Shortly after he was released from the hospital, his friends took him to Chaney Trail in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. This is a smooth dirt trail leading down to a river, perfect for the Vogel’s wheelchair.
On the way down the trail, Vogel stopped about three times while waiting for his friends to catch up with him. His new wheelchair allowed him to go much faster than his friends on foot. Every time he stopped he rolled around in the dirt a bit, killing time.
On the way back, Vogel noticed the spots in the dirt where he had previously stopped and drove off.
“What the hell?” he says to him. “It looks like art.”
Vogel, who lives in Pasadena, has artists from both sides of his family, and he remembers his mother taking him to art museums when he was young. At 5, he draws portraits of himself and members of his family. His love of art continued as he grew older and he ventured into different media.
He never thought his next medium would be dirt.
After realizing that he could use his wheelchair to draw lines on the ground, Vogel began to train. He traveled to areas around bus stops, where soot from buses has accumulated on nearby sidewalks. In this soot, he drew pictures while waiting for the bus.
“Almost every day it was covered in more soot, so it was like a renewable resource,” he said.
His next step was to start painting on canvas. However, Vogel only had one wheelchair at the time, and he didn’t want to cover it with dirt or other art supplies. It took him about a year to acquire a new wheelchair, so that he could devote his old one specifically to art.
Over 30 years later, Vogel is an accomplished abstract artist and advocate for the arts community of people with disabilities. His work has been exhibited in many different installations across Southern California, and he has created hundreds of pieces for private spaces.
Currently, he has several pieces hanging in the Alhambra as part of the “Wheels Up” exhibition at the Academy of Special Dreams. Vogel met the organization’s founder, Michael Derber, about 10 years ago while painting in an alleyway behind his art exhibit in Old Town Pasadena.
Derber created the organization to give a voice to the arts community with disabilities. With the help of Megan Moloughney, Senior Director of Development at the Alhambra, the “Wheels Up” exhibition will be on display until October.
“Anyone can come to the property,” Moloughney said. “We exhibit artists with disabilities. There are a lot of different paintings and photos and different mediums.
Besides being one of the featured artists, Vogel is an advocate for the program.
“Since I first met him on the street, we’ve worked together to help raise awareness and recognize the public,” Derber said. “He’s basically the face of the Academy when it comes to leadership and never gives up because of a disability. “
Navigating a world that is not so accommodating for people with disabilities is not easy. Almost 1.7% of the American population reported living with some level of paralysis, according to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.
Even with a disability, Vogel said his new situation gave him a career in both art and extreme racing, which left him crippled.
He is currently the professional wheelchair racing world champion and is getting ready for the Long Beach Marathon at the end of the month. He said he was also working on launching his own wheelchair combat sport, an idea he patented.
“If I ever made a mistake,” said Vogel, “it was never a mistake because it’s a whole new life, and it’s all just kind of a learning experience.”
The “Wheels upThe exhibit will run through October at the Alhambra, 1000 Fremont Ave., Alhambra, California. There is no admission fee. The gallery showcases the work of Vogel and other disabled artists from the Academy of Special Dreams
Community News produces articles about the undercover and small town areas of Eastside and South Los Angeles. Please send your comments, corrections and story tips to [email protected]