You may need sight to see but an artist must have vision to paint.

Surprisingly there are a number of artist’s who have lost their sight. The most famous of these is Claude Monet, who would in this day and age be classified as blind, or if not blind, certainly partially sighted. It’s common knowledge that he painted his vast water lily paintings when his sight had all but gone.

As an old art college friend, (Chris Burke, the illustrator and satirical cartoonist) said to me,  “Monet’s paintings got better the worse his eyes got.

Then there are other artists whose sight has cruelly diminished…
The contemporary artist, Sargy Mann, lost his sight. Now completely blind, he still produces wonderfully artistic works. He achieves this with ingenuity, determination and the help of his artist wife. If you’re interested in seeing more of Sargy Mann’s work and reading about how he works, see his page at Cadogan Contemporary.

Sargy Mann

Well what about my story?
Twelve years ago I was a successful advertising creative director, running my own marketing and design business in the heart of London’s West End theatre land, with offices opposite the Ivy restaurant.
I was also then, as I am now, passionate about art and painted and drew at every opportunity..
Then out of the blue, I started to trip up street kurbs and found myself walking into chairs at pavement cafes. At the same time, my night vision just went.
As I’d always had 20/20 vision, I hadn’t had an eye-test for years. “Maybe I need some glasses?” I thought.  So off I trotted to the optician on Longacre, looking forward to choosing some funky frames. He looked into the back of my eyes, patted me on the head then said, “I think you need to see a specialist.”

I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa.
This would be a shock for anyone, but as an artist and designer, it was a real blow.
The Flower shop, Olhao
As my sight worsened, so did my ability to get about, to walk unaided and to attend meetings. I could no longer art direct photography or go anywhere unless softly lit. But the worst aspect was trying to appear fine. How could I let anyone know how bad my vision had become? My job and the company depended on me carrying on as normal.
Eventually I realised that I couldn’t keep up the pretence any longer and so I started to work less days until I left altogether. What has sustained me is art. And I have found that as a painter, diminishing sight increases the urgency to ‘put down my vision’ on canvas.
Remarkably there are some artistic advantages to having reduced vision: I don’t have to screw up my eyes to focus on shape and form rather than detail. The detail just isn’t there anymore.  I’m only too aware of contrast, light and shade. No one needs to point out tone to me. What’s dark is seriously dark. What’s light can be almost unbearably bright. It can make for exciting work.

You may need sight to see – an artist needs passion, determination and above all vision to paint. See my paintings at ionastern.com

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