Blind Artists

Esref Armagan drawing a sea shell

Esref Armagan drawing a sea shell

Esref Armagan

This famous Turkish painter and drawer was afflicted with a rare congenital genetic mutation causing him to be born without eyes, called bilateral anophthalmia. Amazingly, Esref Armagan is a fascinating artist, especially since he has never received any formalized education or training; he has been perfecting his art using his own method since he was a child.

Using a Braille stylus, young Esref Armagan outlined the contours of his composition onto cardboard.  Now, at the age of 41, he has mastered the art of drawing to the point that he can use an ordinary pencil on paper to visually represent real objects, like a conch shell, or even buildings (as demonstrated in this video by Dr. John Kennedy, a perception psychologist at Harvard University).  His art remarkably demonstrates his profound understanding of spatial concepts, including perception, shadow, depth of field, and scale, enabling him to paint landscapes and architecture.

He has said, “No one can call me blind! I see more with my fingers than people can see with their eyes.”  The work created by this artist is vibrantly colourful, elegantly composed, and skillfully executed.
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Maria Santos

Maria Santos during an interview

Maria Santos during an interview

This Ecuadorian painter suffered a car crash at the age of 22 while traveling Europe, sending her into a coma due to head trauma.  When she awoke, she had lost both her memory and her sight.  However, Maria Santos continues to pursue her passion for the art of painting using push pins on cardboard or foam-backed paper as landmarks for the contours of the subject of painting to enable her to measure distance and proportion.  She also labels the different colours of her paints with Braille, and divides her palette systematically.
Her perseverance and passion are both admirable and inspirational, sending the message that obstacles can and should be overcome in order to accomplish one’s goals.

John Bramblitt

John Bramblitt poses in front of his larger-than-life painting

John Bramblitt poses in front of his larger-than-life painting

This American painter originally attended college to study creative writing.  However, after suffering a series of epileptic seizures, John Bramblitt eventually became blind. He then chose to turn his focus away from the literary arts and towards the visual arts, as a means of “defiance,” self-expression, and therapy.

In an interview, available on the above link, he describes his technique as involving the use of “slick paint” on the canvas that quickly dries to leave a raised line that can be felt as an outline to assist in his orientation on the canvas.  Furthermore, to mix his oil paints, he discriminates between the different viscosities (e.g. white is very viscous, whereas black is not) in order to create the desired shade.  He also consults with other sighted artists to ensure that his paintings are progressing as he intended.

Importantly, John suggests that, through painting, he has learned to better orient himself in his environment: “making two-dimensional paintings really helps me in this three-dimensional world.”  John is proof that the art of painting is not only helpful to a blind person, but it is also extremely satisfying and fulfilling even without vision.  Indeed, a visual/tactile means of expression is rewarding to anyone with artistic inclinations.

Ahmet Ustunel

Ahmet Ustunel sculpting pottery

Ahmet Ustunel sculpting pottery

This Turkish artist claims that he has always been interested in creating art, playing with window caulk and mud as a child to sculpt animal figures.  In elementary and high school, his teachers encouraged his artistry, praising his talent at sculpting.   Ahmet Ustunel’s homepage features many of the intricate masks he has sculpted as well as his more recent endeavors in pottery.   This website also provides tips for blind artists who are interested in sculpting pottery.

Ahmet Ustunel claims that his blindness enables him to better express his creativity through sculpting.  A few of his works have been exhibited at various art shows in San Diego, where he now resides.  In an article he has written, Ustunel advocates for the education of art to blind children.  He claims that visual art, be it sculpting, painting or drawing, enhances the quality of life of blind children to same extent as it does for sighted children.  He further argues that art can be aesthetically experienced through any and all of the senses, including the sense of touch.

Peter Eckert

Peter Eckert, photographer

Peter Eckert, photographer

This American photographer did not pursue this particular visual art form until after becoming blind in adulthood.  Before being diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosaPete Eckert had studied sculpture, industrial design, and planned to study architecture, while working as a carpenter.  After losing his sight, he first transitioned into the field of visual art by creating woodcuts before eventually focusing on photography.

On his homepage (see above link), Eckert describes his creative process using a camera as follows: “I view my work during the event of taking the shot in my mind’s eye.  I ‘see’ each shot very clearly, only I use sound, touch, and memory.  I am more of a conceptual artist than a photographer.” Furthermore, he explains that his art, which is purely visual in nature, forges a bridge between the world of the blind and that of the sighted.

Bruce Hall

Bruce Hall's self portrait

Bruce Hall's self portrait

This American photographer was born with several visual impairments, according to his biography, including nystagmus, myopia, astigmatism, amblyopia, and macular degeneration.  Despite being legally blind, Bruce Hall still retains some limited vision, which is precisely why he became interested in photography.  He explains, “I think all photographers take pictures in order to see, but for me it’s a necessity.  I can’t see without optical devices, cameras.  Therefore, it’s become an obsession. It’s beyond being in love with cameras; I need cameras.”  He is well-known for his underwater series, which showcase the beauty of the coral reef, as well as his very personal autism series, featuring his twin sons.  Both he and Peter Eckert are featured on the documentary entitled Dark Light: The Art of Blind Photographers (2010) and are members of the Blind Photographers Guild.  Furthermore, Hall is also a musician and an autism advocate.

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