Born on 21 February 1954 in Los Angeles, at the age of fifteen, Robert Thome suffered a serious injury while playing American football. He bumped into a player of the rival team, fell and fractured two vertebrae. The resulting damage done to the spine left him paralyzed from the neck down. Years of hopelessness and rage followed, he attempted suicide, although he was already teaching himself how to paint with the mouth. “If you are tetraplegic it’s as if you were locked in a cage and there’s no way out”, he says. In 1980 he met his future wife Kathy, who made his life worth living for him, again. Thanks to her support painting became his profession and his mission in life. Robert Thome says: “Art is a wonderful means of expression. I paint with my mouth, but if something happened to my mouth, I would paint with the forehead. That’s what art is about, finding ways to implement your ideas.”
In that last 20 years, Robert Thome has been able to continuously improve his techniques and has participated in more than 200 exhibitions. He is a founding member of the Artability Artist Association in San Diego, a group of disabled artists, which teaches and advises other disabled people in the San Diego rehabilitation centre. He also works with young people and adults at schools, universities and charitable organizations. He has received numerous awards and honours for his works. For example, he was awarded the Governor’s Trophy, the highest honour given to a Californian with a disability.