All About Art Features Blind Artists

On many occasions, eyesight has little or nothing to do with vision, especially for artists who are visually-impaired. From Gorham, ME to Minneapolis, MN visually-impaired artists who have exhibited their work and won awards in the process will tell you that this is true.

All five of the following artists had their work invited to be shown at the All About Art at MossRehab juried exhibit.

Minneapolis’ Tara Arlene Innmon won with Riding the MTC#5 with the top of the frame having a dark gray pastel band with a mossy green hue. The bottom half of the frame is a black and gray mass with smudges of light gray and occasional black curving lines. Between the two dark masses is a bright band divided into rectangular sections of varying proportions by vertical lines in black, chalky gray and white. The left rectangle is almost white at the top with a faint turquoise layer. A shape, like a human figure’s upper torso, is dark gray with faint edges that merge into the darker lower portion of the picture. The next rectangle, along with a continuation of the white/turquoise from the previous section, is filled with a rubbing of peachy orange mixed with darker gray. This smudged peach patch spreads to the next rectangle, filling it almost entirely except for a small line of white at the top. The last rectangle on the far right has the remnants of peach hues overtaken by a cloudy patch of greenish gray.

Ms. Innmon relates, “I want to show what the world looks like to a person who is losing vision and how the feelings of grief and anger lead to transformation and acceptance. It was like being in a fog that got thicker and thicker. The definition of beauty changed for me from sharp, brightly-colored visual images to lights and colors with no shape, then to the tactile sense of shape and texture. I believe many of my dreams have universal elements that assist in the process of growth and healing. I have painted these images and now write them into stories.”

Dayton, OH’s Martha Cowden has been totally blind for 30 years. She notes: “Since I have no vision, all of my work is tactile. Texture is a very important part of my work. I enjoy the entire process used to create my hand-built pottery pieces. Manipulating the spinning yarn is very satisfying. I use clay, natural fibers, and handspun yarn in various combinations to achieve different effects, and I rely totally on my sense of touch to create one-of-a-kind pieces.”

Her Each by Each piece is woven of off-white and gold fiber and could be used to hold dried flowers. It’s shaped like a square-sided vase with a narrow neck and a somewhat wider lip above the neck. The four corners are covered with white, felted strips which reach from the neck to the bottom. The flat surfaces between the strips are woven of gold and white yarn and fiber in various textures. One side has thin yearn pulled out to create loops on the surface; another has soft, white tufts reminiscent of small cotton balls. The neck and lip are gold and white yarn.

On the other hand, Carmelo Gannello, from Oak Park, IL, is known for his paintings of parks, marine life, and city living. The repetition of circles in his work symbolizes the cataracts that have transformed his vision. He recalls that “when I became blind, I had to change my thinking. I remember going to the art institute of Chicago and [my] teacher, Capsalas was his name, told me, `Why don’t you do what you see?’ I said, `I see floaters’ and I thought no one is going to be interested in floaters, and I did one and I liked it so much. I continued doing eye floaters. I thought that would be an ideal thing for me to do, after all, I’m visually impaired, so how can I explain to people what I see? I saw these floaters, they were real to me. He put the floaters in the midst of a piece he calls The Forest, where things “aren’t really specific. The line isn’t strong, it’s fuzzy, the haze, in a night forest. I tried to get that effect.”

Gannello lost his sight at the age of 36 and used to be a regionalist painter, “but as my eye condition worsened due to detached retinas and Macular Degeneration, I now see circles and blobs in my vision. I use the circles to inspire my work, turning my art into the theme, Art of the Eye. Today, my work is enchanted by circles, and because I really see them in my vision, I capture them as they float by. I work them into my art in such a way as to make them attractive and an asset to what I am doing, proving that anyone with a handicap can execute art.

And do it well, too, including the somewhat south of Minneapolis, Tracy Mosman, of Indianapolis, says the “activity of drawing has long been a personal favorite. I think it has always charmed me because of its simplicity and versatility. It never stops providing me with both pleasure and ideas.”

Meanwhile, Frank Valliere, of Gorham, ME, had his oils on pastels Workin’ on My Tan used to promote the opening reception for A Matter of Perception 2005 Fifth Juried Exhibition by Artists with Disabilitie sponsored by the Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies. A supporting display was related to VSA Arts of Maine, which provides a community-based opportunity for artists with disabilities living in Maine to gain artistic exposure and exhibition experience.

I’m legally blind with acute myopia,” Valliere explains. “If one must have a disability, this is one of the easy ones to deal with, especially for an artist. You get great colors and pretty good clarity. It’s just that everything is so much smaller. …When it comes to driving cars and catching baseballs, I’d rather have regular vision, but then I’d just be a regular guy. Roughly half of the known artists throughout history have had some sort of visual impairment. The ability to produce art is a basic human function. My biggest problem is figuring out how to be an artist and useful to society at the same time.”

In 1979, All About Art at MossRehab was the brainchild of a group of MossRehab volunteers and staff members, who wanted to make a very strong statement about the talents and commitment of people with disabilities. Friends of Moss Auxiliary took the exhibit on as part of its advocacy program. MossRehab is part of the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network and is a 147-bed facility in Philadelphia. MossRehab offers comprehensive care to people with conditions including stroke, brain injury, orthopedic and musculoskeletal disabilities, spinal cord dysfunction, pulmonary disorders, amputations, and other forms of disability.

All About Art will run until mid-January. Art exhibit funds benefit the Family Hospitality Suite at MossRehab at Elkins Park, PA.

Herb Drill, is a charter member of the now international in membership Society of American Business Editors and Writers. His e-mail address is herbertdrill@cs.com