Jon Wos was born in Wisconsin in 1981. He was diagnosed with OI at birth.Photo of Jon smiling Though this condition limited his physical ability, it heightened his sensitivity to the world around him, and, out of his love of creation, Jon began drawing as a very young child. When Jon was a sophomore in college, he won a $10,000 grand prize in a national competition for disabled artists. In 2005, Jon graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts with an emphasis in drawing, painting, and sculpture. Mr. Wos has exhibited his various pieces of artwork throughout North America.

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I was born in 1981 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. My family lived about a half hour drive north of Green Bay on a dairy farm near a town with a population of less than 500. It was very rural, so many of the activities that most kids engaged in, were pretty physical, and it could be hard for me to keep up. Especially when I had a fracture. Out of all the things I did to keep myself busy when I was in a cast, creating visual art of any kind was something I loved to do very early on. Whether it was drawing, building blocks, or doing crafts, creating things gave me great joy.

Jon as child in a castAnd I needed as much joy as I could get, because there were a lot of fractures early on. Most of the fractures were of both femurs and my right arm. I had plates put in and then eventually rods when I was in my late teens.

But after all that, it has been more than 20 years since I have had a fracture. Family, friends, and creating art is what got me through all those years of fractures. My fracture rate declined as I grew up, but my love of creating art did not. I knew I wanted to become a professional artist, pretty early on in my life. So with the strong encouragement, and support of my family and friends, I pursued art as more than just a hobby in my life. I started painting with oil paints around the age of 12, partly due to my religious commitment to watching Bob Ross on TV. Then when I was about 16, I tried stained glass in high school and fell in love with that. This led to experimenting with glass bead making. In college I studied drawing, painting, and sculpture. During this time, I worked on my portrait painting skills as well as studying glass torch work independently in sculpture. I graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor of Fine Art from the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. I have been selling my work in galleries and doing commission work ever since.

How do you live?

I live in my own home and have my art studios within. I primarily use a manual wheelchair to get around, but can walk short distances, unaided, thanks to having both my femurs rodded. My house is a ranch with a ramp to get in, which is really all I need, other than a few grab bars here and there. I also have a van with a ramp, hand controls, and a rotating driver’s seat that I transfer into. I currently live alone but have friends and family coming by often and they help me to reach things if need be.

In what way has OI affected your art?

Well, my art is affected by OI for obvious physical reasons. My limited size and strength make doing small or medium sized work more practical. Otherwise, I hire others to help me with projects that are too big to handle my myself. I have also broken my right arm and wrist many times which has negatively impacted my range of motion and strength of my dominant hand. So, painting tends to be the most comfortable for me to execute because pencil drawing requires too much of my wrist to accomplish. This fact about my right arm has also pushed me to learn to paint with both hands in some cases.

But OI has also had an impact on my work by pushing me to use my work to deal with and improve life rather than try to escape from life and dwell on the negative. Having been through many painful experiences, I do not see the point in thinking of them a moment longer than what is necessary to overcome them.

What are you currently working on?

Currently I am in between commissions, so I am taking care of smaller projects and making blown glass ornaments and wine glasses while I prepare for my next large commission. I often juggle a few different projects at the same time, working a little bit on each throughout the day. This allows me to work on something while the paint is drying, or glass is cooling. I also find this allows me to get away from projects when they become frustrating or just to have time away and then to come back at a project with fresh eyes. Just before the holidays I finished a 36″ x 48″ oil painting of a Viking longboat on a stormy sea. Soon I will be starting another even larger commission of 3 paintings that hang together as a triptych, totalling almost 45 sq feet of painting surface.

Viking boat

Why do you do what you do?

There are so many reasons I do what I do. First and foremost, I do it because I love to create, I love the doing, the experimenting, and the fact that after this process, that I enjoy so much, I am left with something that is real, that has not existed before me. And the fact that I can bring joy to others from my creations by doing what I love most, makes it such an easy decision of what to do. It is essentially a spiritual win-win for me as well as my clients.

What themes do you pursue?

I want to use my work to show people that life is worth living. I choose my themes centred around the fundamental values that help people to thrive, in spite of the struggle and challenges of life. Out of the fundamental values that make life worth living, your loved ones and the people you surround yourself with, are at the top. So, I do a lot of portraiture commission work. As well as portraits I also like to create still life paintings that show objects and moments in life that are often overlooked because of their mundane nature. I want people to see that the way they view something changes the way they feel about it, even seemingly boring objects. I have also done many self-portraits around the theme of how to keep one’s passion for living strong. I think this is best done by surrounding yourself with beauty, with your values and what reminds you of them. Which brings me back to my main goal of showing life is worth living if you make it so.

What kind of work do you most enjoy doing?

This is a very tough question for me. I equally love to create portraits, still life, stained glass, and blown glass torch work. As long as I feel like I am bringing beauty into existence, then the medium isn’t necessarily important. So long as the work involves both a mental and a physical aspect to it, then I will enjoy it.

Human Skeleton artwork

What was the scariest experience in your life?

It was most certainly when I tried to take my own life in college. I have never felt so alone as when I almost lost myself. I didn’t really want to die but had enough of the struggles of life. I was afraid my love of life would never return. This event greatly impacted the goal of my work as it started me on a quest to find what fuels the human soul. And by soul I don’t mean anything mystical or supernatural. I mean the desire to live: a passion for and love of life.

What was one of the happiest moments in your life?

It is a bit harder for me to choose what the happiest moment in my life has been. But it is a tie for the top two. The first was when I had the opening reception for my first solo show at Ripon College. I was asked to fill their gallery exclusively with self-portraits which took me more than a year to prepare for. It was an incredibly fulfilling and happy experience. The second moment that I was equally as happy was the first time my fiancé told me he loved me.

What’s your favourite artwork?

Well, this is an extremely tough question, but certainly one of my favourite paintings is “The Astronomer” by Vermeer. As with all Vermeer’s work, the sense of light is wonderful. In addition to that the feeling of eagerness the figure portrays is perfect as well as the sense of wonder the whole painting elicits. I find it to be a perfect portrayal of the human desire to understand.

Jon painting in nature

What is your dream project?

My dream project is a collection of paintings I would love to complete, that centre around the idea of keeping one’s inner fire for living always burning bright. I have completed a few self-portraits centred around this theme already. It would consist of a series of oil paintings and stained-glass lanterns. The lanterns are symbols of the inner burning passion people can have for life and would be depicted in the paintings as the sources of a thriving life. My goal in this series would be to remind the viewer that it is of utmost importance to protect and fuel your inner fire to always stay burning.

Do you have any messages for readers of OIFE Magazine or for OIFE?

Well as someone who has dealt with anxiety and depression for the majority of my life, what I have learned is that much of it comes from a subconscious evaluation of the question, “Is life worth it?” And the answer I have come up with is that, yes, it is worth it, if you make it so.

Fundamentally I am the only one that can make my life worth living. No one else can judge what makes life worth living for you and you cannot passively sit and wait for the moments that make life worth living. You have to seek out, or even create, the moments that make life worth it, for you. Find what fuels you individually and protect that with all you can. Just as you protect the physically essential aspects of life, like your heart, your eyes, or the food on the table, your inner fire must be looked after just as carefully. Some may seem to be able to survive without that fundamental burning, but they certainly cannot thrive without it.

See a longer interview with Jon Wos in the video below. 

For more information about Jon’s art – visit his webpage.

This article was first published in OIFE Magazine 1-2024.