Thursday, 8 March 2012

Art and practical tips from artists: exploring new horizons for the visually impaired

*** Update 22/5/2012

On account of my hip replacement I missed out on the Outside In surgeries, though a friend has managed to scan and upload four of my paintings to the Outside In website.  Jennifer Gilbert was able to check that the upload had worked properly and that I had in fact gone live.  The link to Outside In is:

and my four paintings can be viewed on: and

Outside In also tweets under the name @outsidein_uk .

*** end of update

On losing sight one has to live in a more “audio centric” world.  While visually impaired people will generally say that they read a book, in fact they have listened to a book either from a recording or from a synthetic text to speech facility.  Improvements in technology have allowed some VIPs to participate actively in literature.  Audio description is another field in which the audio function can lead to an almost passive participation with the VIPs. Discussions can be limited as we tend to forget how much conversation is non-verbal. 

One of the active pursuits that I enjoy is painting.  At school I had been written off as I could not draw.  I have been very lucky in meeting some artists who are gifted in being able to communicate techniques to a VIP group or even better the only VI person in an otherwise “normal” group.  Many thanks to Val Fox who helps me paint and usually ends up with much of the paint on her person!  Society has deemed it necessary for special “therapists” to cater for some disabled groups.  Warning lights start to flash in my mind whenever I hear “We are used to playing in old folks homes” said by musicians. “I have given mobility training to the deaf” said to me and the classic “If you go on our website and click on the video you will see that we use BSL in signing to those with hearing loss” said to our local VI group by an access officer from a major teaching hospital.

One of the artists I met at the Royal Academy is Harry Baxter who led one of the sessions at the Hockney Workshop.  A little colour and chemical background can be useful to VI painters with limited colour sensitivity.  If you know how the colours and textures work it is possible to create something which will “trick the eye” of a sighted person.  Harry has allowed me to quote him:

“It is an amazing world that the same elements used in hip joints can be used to make colour pigments.

It's always good to have a chemist onboard when discussing pigments.”

“Nice to here they know there pigments over at the National, Cobalt blue and lead white, I have just had a look at the painting, looks like a very overcast day, very northern European. 

As for my blog, the majority of the paintings are 120 cm by102 cm, there are some smaller ones though like the frogs sitting on chicken burgers and nuggets which is 60 cm by 30cm, and the first painting on the blog is a small study which is only 21 cm squared. These two smaller paintings are on linen, but generally I work on 80 ounce cotton duck canvas. Linen is nice but expensive. If given the choice I would work on smooth linen every time. The largest painting on the blog is a very early piece from 2001, called 'Behind Closed Doors' it is 198cm by 200 cm, so pretty much six foot squared. It has Andi, the worlds first genetically cloned Rhesus monkey at the centre holding a piece of glowing kentucky fried chicken. He is in a strange battery chicken farm with lots of dead cattle piled up on the floor.” 

Jonathan Huxley

Jonathan helped me at both Royal Academy events.  At the In Person evening gathering I was drawing using oil based pastels on paper.  Jonathan suggested I could blur some of the lines with turpentine or white spirit.  I thought about it and tried it at home.  This shows how one can exchange ideas with other people in making some art work accessible in both the doing and also the “viewing”.  Jonathan had also helped me in making my collage of the Hockney Thixendale trees. 

My drawing of the percussion evening at the Royal Academy with Principle3 is shown.   The non toxic aqueous “white spirit cleaner” did just that so I used some white spirit.  I think I will call it Solar Charged Particle Storm.  The results look promising and it may be worthwhile exploring this technique further. 
Percussion Wave

© Profwhitestick

Solar Charged Particle Storm

© Profwhitestick

Outside In

At the Royal Academy Kate Horbury mentioned that David Johnson had joined Outside In and that his work was on their site.  I contacted Outside In who are based at the Pallant House Galleries in Chichester and have exchanged emails with Jennifer Gilbert. 

Works can be photographed and put on the Outside In website.
This is something that I may be interested in and Outside In have a few surgery days coming up in London where they can help artists to photograph their work and upload statements and their work to the website. This gives people an online presence and will enable artists to submit works to be up for selection for exhibitions if they wish.

Jennifer had taken a look at my blog post on the Royal Academy In Touch description of the Hockney exhibition and mentioned that Bridget who did the picture description tour  is working with them at Pallant House Gallery at the moment getting ready for the Outside In: National exhibition that opens in October this year. So there will be tours that you can be notified about here as well as workshops that you can take part in about artists in the main collections at Pallant House Gallery.

Laura Fishman

Laura was taking part in a gallery in the more “fashionable” part of East Kilburn.  A friend had noticed a flyer in a library and another saw it and asked if I wanted to go to the sale.  I hesitate to describe it as a show or even exhibition and there was some interesting sculpture created from some gas cylinders and old fire extinguishers which was fun. 

Some of the exhibitors engaged and some did not.  I saw a painting that caught my eyes.  The painting was on show in a fairly well (artificially) lit part of the show area.  There was a familiar colour to the painting and I asked the artist what the colour was.  Laura came back with the answer “Alizarin”.  This made me want to buy the painting (I did) and we discussed organic pigments and how Laura had built up the painting in 5 layers with resin, sand, pigment and paint.  We were clearly talking at the same wavelength and were soon talking about Frank Stella and Gerhard Richter.

There did not seem to be much “business” being done by the other artists in the show. It was not that they ignored a visually impaired person; they ignored any potential customer. 

The painting is 30cm by 42cm and has the advantage that it appears differently in daylight and in artificially lit settings.  There are layers of material which have been applied and removed and some geometric structures in a blue colour which I can make out in daylight.  The painting has a resin layer which gives it a glass feel with some “highlights” in sand.  It is durable and also a Haptic Painting”.