Inspired by the silent composition sound art (4’33” – John Cage – 1952) I was interested to explore blindness, not a complete loss of sight, but a loss of external seeing; just as we explored the way silence is not at all silent.
I have worked alongside a charity that supports the blind, SeeAbility. I tried to get closer to the impact of blindness, by using contact lenses that block out most light by preventing the eye from perceiving spatial depth.
I also talked to a range of people affected by blindness, to understand their stories, the background to and impact of their disability, and how this affects their identity.
I have produced a range of studies in acrylics, oils and pastels. I explored different media, including sculpture and sound, and studied personal objects; interested by what the touch and feel of an object can communicate.
I feel I have only just scraped the surface of what there is to explore within this idea, in particular the use of sound and objects, something I will develop in the future.
In this painting, my sitter is experiencing blindness by wearing the bLind simulation contact lenses. The most important part of the work is to try and capture their character whilst temporarily blind, which is why I have used oils on a large format.
In addition to the portrait, I am presenting a series of words spoken by the sitter while I painted them, during the time they were experiencing blindness. Printed in braille, these words are intensely personal and represent the trust the sitter had in me to remove her sight and speak openly about the physical and emotional effects of it. I am interested in the idea that most people cannot read braille, so will only be able to guess at the words spoken – the rest of the story must come through the image.
Greyson Perry describes portrait artists as ‘part psychologist, part detective’. This is how I approached this project, studying the body language of the sitter as they were in this vulnerable state. It is how I hope the audience will approach looking at and touching the braille, which they will not be able to decipher, but must react to.
This project has reinforced my belief in the importance of seeing everyone for who they are, not what you assume they might be, and my desire in art, to attempt to represent an individual’s true identity.