Fontbonne professor Tim Liddy is one of 102 artists displayed in a national exhibition at the Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville, Ark. But Liddy was never going to be an artist. Looking forward to a career on the ice, he was planning to play games, not paint them.
As a top hockey player growing up in the Detroit area in the early 1980s, Liddy was bound for a spot on a professional team. But an accident at the rink when he was 16 dashed those hopes. Liddy suffered a high break in his spinal cord, a paralyzing, near-fatal injury.
“I didn’t move anything from the neck down for about nine months,” Liddy said. “Usually when that happens, it’s like a Christopher Reeve type of thing.”
His mother was at his bedside for months as he wasted away from 165 pounds to 73. But his father insisted he’d always been “tougher than a $2 steak.” And eventually, he began to improve.
“I moved a toe, then a finger, and from there, it was just a lot of work,” Liddy said.
Physical therapists tied a pencil to his wrist until he could finally grip one, giving voice to pent-up feelings. “I began drawing images I couldn’t verbally express,” he said.
During three grueling years of rehab and the completion of high school, Liddy learned to get around on his own. He enrolled in the Detroit College for Creative Studies, and later came to St. Louis for graduate school at Washington University.
“I would have never been an artist if it weren’t for my disability. I probably would have been a drunk hockey player,” Liddy said.
Board games as time capsules
Today Liddy, 51, is married with a 6-year-old son. While Liddy doesn’t play hockey or other physically competitive sports, of course, games are still a big part of his life — and work. In 2006, he began using board-game box covers to make statements about race, gender, violence and other cultural issues.
Three of his game-related works are in the Crystal Bridges “State of the Art” exhibition, which runs through Jan. 19. Liddy’s one of two St. Louisans included in the display. The other is Jamie Adams, known for his bold images of American sex symbols.
Games are like time capsules, Liddy said. One of the most iconic choices is “Battleship." Its cover speaks volumes about the 1960s, as Liddy explains in this video. (Story continues, below.)
‘The horror can be anything’
The game artworks are all the actual size of a board-game box. At first, Liddy simply duplicated the box covers on games. Next, he began playing with the words and images.
“Then I just started making up my own ideas, games you would think were invented but never were,” Liddy said.
One of Liddy’s original games that’s part of the Crystal Bridges exhibition is called “Pistolette.” It’s inspired by surrealist Rene Magritte and his “The Treachery of Images,” known for its contradictory statement, in French, “This is not a pipe.”
Another is called “Horror Box.” It’s basically a pink box held together with what appears to be masking and duct tape.
“It’s this thing that’s falling apart but it’s preserved,” Liddy said.
Viewers will project their own fears into what the contents might be. “You don’t know what’s in the box — the horror can be anything,” Liddy said.
In another horror-related project, Liddy’s working on a custom game with a theme of “Dark Shadows”, a late 1960s-to-early-1970s soap opera featuring vampire Barnabas Collins.
“The vampire craze kind of died out then it came back with Anne Rice then it died down a little bit and came back again with the teenage ‘Twilight’ films,” Liddy said. “It’s this theme of a kind of villain character that you also feel kind of sympathetic for.”
Full circle at Crystal Bridges
When Liddy was struggling to heal from his childhood accident, he was inspired by author and spiritual guru Deepak Chopra.
This fall, Chopra attended an event related to the Crystal Bridges exhibition. The Oct. 7 summit, exploring the role of art in an evolving society, featured a roster of esteemed panelists and speakers which included Bill Clinton as well as Chopra. Liddy was able to meet them both.
Liddy remembers gaining strength more than 30 years ago from Chopra’s words about the mind healing the body.
“It was all about positive thinking,” Liddy said. Today, Liddy’s work illustrates the power of moving forward, not in spite of, but because of his disability.
“It’s in every piece of art that I do, although it may not be obvious,” Liddy said.
See Deepak Chopra, Bill Clinton and a young activist who advocates dancing as opposed to war, in this video from the Crystal Bridges summit.
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL