Alison Lapper was born in 1965 with limb deficiency and lived in institutions for the disabled for nineteen years. Having been interested in art from a very early age, she was invited to become a member of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA) at the age of sixteen and was encouraged to concentrate on her art by Board Member Charles Fowler. She took pre-foundation and foundation courses at Heatherley’s School of Fine Art, and then decided to apply for a degree course at Brighton.

The following excerpts are taken from Chapter 11 of Alison Lapper’s autobiography, My life in my hands (London, Simon & Schuster Limited: 2005):

‘I drove down from London and had an interview with Bill Beech, who was head of the art school, and some of the other tutors. I was very direct and upfront with the panel. I asked them to give me a chance and let me do my degree at Brighton.

[…] Bill decided that I must be given the opportunity but when we started discussing the practical side of me joining the course the prospects didn’t look good. … However, that didn’t stop him or me.

[…] My chief support and helpmate was an indomitable and marvellous woman called Pat Elliot. … She was always up to her neck in administrative work but was ready with friendship and assistance whenever I needed them. She was the same with all the other students. Her sense of humour was deeply ironic and she made me laugh with her remarks. … I was the needy one in the group and the others got used to helping me to do things. And because they helped me they also helped each other.

[…] I worked long and hard for my final degree show and created an installation of my work which could only be reached by crawling through an entranceway designed for someone of my height. Inside I had placed selections of my bodycasts and photographs of myself in classical poses like the Venus de Milo. There were also photographs of me from the years when I was at the children’s home. It must have been an intense experience for anyone who crouched their way into the room.’

Alison Lapper uses a range of media, from painting, photography and digital imaging to installation to explore her subjects, which are often herself and others’ perceptions of her.

In 2005, Lapper was the subject of a public sculpture as part of a Fourth Plinth Commission in London’s Trafalgar Square and a larger scale version of the work featured at London 2012 Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony as an icon of creativity and inclusiveness. In 2014 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Brighton.