|The Palo Alto Art Center premiered their new exhibit, The Art of Disability Culture, on Saturday September 11. Among the beautiful works of art, the splashes of color, rich textures, and intricate sculptures, you’ll find multi-media tactile paintings by blind artist Catherine Chong.
After a retinal detachment and failed surgeries to repair the damage to her retinas in 2018, Catherine took steps towards learning how to adapt to low vision. Those steps led Catherine to LightHouse and we wanted to find out more.
How did you first hear about LightHouse?
“My elderly aunt and mentor in San Francisco had a blind daughter. Her daughter went to Enchanted Hills Camp every summer and therefore they suggested I call LightHouse. [LightHouse Rehabilitation Counselor] Debbie Bacon gave me a thorough skillful interview to find just the right programs for me. I went to Enchanted Hills Camp where I got an introduction to blindness. Initially, I was so frightened. Robert Alimana gave me my first hope of independence with orientation & mobility skills and Divina Carlson taught me Braille. [Access Technology Trainer] Jeff Buckwalter trained me on the Victor Reader so I could record lectures and read books for my schooling.”
After strengthening her independence through the kindness and expertise of LightHouse staff and educators, Catherine had the abilities and confidence to rediscover her lifelong passion—art.
“Since kindergarten, I was drawn to work with my hands. When outside recess would start, I would hide among the easels and pots of paint rather than the prejudice of the schoolyards where I could not catch balls. Throughout my life, I have practiced art-making and have acquired many skills like academic western painting, sculpture, photography, traditional Asian painting and calligraphy.”
What is your preferred art medium?
“Acrylic painting with lots of different mediums such as rough, smooth, bumpy, glass beads and collage for texture. Tactile Paintings! Or sometimes I call them Sensitive Painting. Learning to read Braille was what inspired me to create tactile art.”
What are your inspirations?
“Humans who have gifted us with wisdom and compassion. My teachers at the LightHouse. Anything is possible. Any beings who have connected humans, animals, or ecology. As a child, my life was filled with beautiful images of saints, stain glass and sacred architecture. As an adult who studied Buddhism, I am touched by Asian stories of the beauty hidden in the ordinary and simplicity.”
Is there anything unique or special about your artistic process?
“I am not trying to imitate the natural world. Color as symbol and emotion is more important to me. I hope the viewer feels lightened, inspired, and can see themselves in my paintings. The images are the viewer’s reflection of their own true nature. I think the most surprising process for me is using different kinds of light while creating. I have a spot of vision in the outer corner of my left eye, but alas it is only for a few hours a day. Then I have to rest my eyes. So, I have resorted to soft light like candles or lanterns for much of the painting and bright light for short bursts of time when needed. I trace outlines on computers screens or make tactile swell paper images for patterns or stencils. I use string, tape, wiki sticks, even cake decorating tools to make thick tactile lines to help me feel borders. I do put large letters or numbers in the paintings. Sometimes they are upside down to denote mystery or ignorance. Braille meditation teachings in clear plastic are also embedded in most paintings.“
Learn more about Catherine’s art by visiting her website, Lecce-chongartist.com. Follow Catherine on Instagram @Leccechongartist where she posts photos of finished art as well as her process in creating the individual pieces. You can also, of course, attend The Art of Disability Culture show at the Palo Alto Art Center, in personal or virtually, until December 11.
LightHouse for the Blind Gallery
The LightHouse for the Blind Gallery is an avenue to highlight the vast depths of creativity and talent in our community, through a series of rotating exhibits by blind artists. The gallery, which resides in the lobby of 1155 Market St., has held dynamic mosaic pieces, photography and multimedia art, and rotates about twice a year. Besides providing aesthetically poignant and culturally impactful art, we aim to challenge conventions of blind ability and ambition through the work on display.
If you are a blind or visually impaired artist, or know someone who is, and would like to show their work in our gallery, please contact Jennifer Sachs at JSachs@lighthouse-sf.org.
Blind photographer Ted Tahquechi shares the way he sees the human body. Art opening January 30, 5 to 7 p.m. at LightHouse headquarters, 1155 Market St. 10th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103. For more information please email email@example.com.
Claire Spector is a legally blind contemporary textile artist. She sews by feel. Her latest exhibit, Blind Stitching: Vis-AbilityTM, is on display in the LightHouse Gallery. Claire’s work is up through December 2019.
Kurt Schwartzmann’s pen, ink, watercolor and acrylic pen multimedia pieces, inspired by and depicting the SF MUNI system, are currently on display in the LightHouse Gallery. Kurt’s work is up through May 2019.
Deaf- blind mosaic artist Mary Dignan displayed her lively tactile works at the LightHouse in the summer of 2018.
Blind photographer Alice Wingwall displayed her dynamic, vibrant photographs at the LightHouse in the fall of 2017.
Longtime LightHouse community member Charles Blackwell displayed his jazz-inspired acrylic paintings in the spring of 2017.
Artist Exhibition: LightHouse Features Blind Painter Charles Blackwell
On March 23, we hosted the opening of painter Charles Blackwell’s art exhibition in our headquarters building lobby at 1155 Market Street. Blackwell is a longtime member of the LightHouse community, and we are thrilled to provide a platform for his bright and expressive acrylic and pastel paintings, along with braille descriptions of each one.
“My blindness, in a sense, gives me the originality,” says artist Blackwell of his lively, jazz-inspired paintings, which are on display starting today in the 1155 Market Street lobby. “Before, I was trained. I could do a sketch of you in a minute and a half. I could have been a courtroom artist. I can’t do that no more, so I just had to take another approach. I use my fingers, I use the bottom of a paintbrush, I pour paint onto the paper. I’d much rather do that. That’s what I’m after — that improvisation, that serendipity.”
Blackwell’s paintings will be up in the lobby until October. Get a taste of photos and descriptions below, or come by our headquarters and ask at reception for braille or large print titles, prices, and descriptions of the paintings.
A shot of the lobby with paintings hanging on the righthand wall as you walk in.
An image of three paintings, from left to right:
73 Miles Away X the Speed of Light
24 x 39.5 inches
Acrylic on Canvas
Quick, bold strokes of paint form the uneven figure of a saxophonist in the right quadrant of the canvas. The figure leans into his yellow and orange instrument. Short blue, gray, tan and green brush strokes give the background depth and accent an ovular silver and yellow globe in the top left corner.
(#5) Drummer in the Thick of It
20 x 24 inches
Acrylic on Canvas
A drummer keeps time with wire brushes on a pair of golden cymbals. He is seated, wearing green pants and blue shirt. His face sports a classic drummer’s grimace — as though he just settled into a particularly groovy beat. The paint strokes are thick and bold — black outlines filled with jewel tones of blue, pink, gold, yellow and green.
(#20) Hummin’ Down That One Lonely String
30 x 40 inches
Acrylic on Canvas
A bass player in a blue suit plays on a textured stand-up bass. His loosely depicted face is jovial. The background is a patchwork of lines in primary colors with a large golden orb in the top right and a window in the top left. The number 3 stands out against the lines in the background.
(#1001) After the Movement of the Blue Note Mystery
24 x 30 inches
Acrylic on Canvas
A standing, bowed saxophonist emerges into the canvas on the right. He plays a golden saxophone that is almost the length of his body. A smaller figure playing a trumpet is behind him. Both figures play into a silver old-fashioned microphone in the bottom left-hand corner of the canvas. Two golden spotlights hang in the top left corner of the image. The background is a repetitive rhythm of short, blunt strokes of blue, pink, purple, yellow and maroon.
(#14) Savory Smoky 1967 Night Club
26 x 34 inches
Ink on Paper
A freely depicted trumpet player, saxophonist and drummer are grouped at the right of the painting, all in smoky tones. Their instruments are accentuated with yellow. The background is a warm wash of yellow with a few red accents.
(#1004) Downstairs in the Dark of Blue with Rahsaan Roland Kirk Inflated
57 x 38 inches
Acrylic on Canvas
Jazz artist Rahsaan Roland Kirk wears sunglasses and plays three saxophones at once. Directly behind him is a trumpet player, and in the background, a small bassist and a drummer. A mask adorns the wall and a banana hangs from the sky to the right of Kirk. All of the figures are made up of bold lively pinks, purples, yellows, reds and blues. The background is a deep blue patterned with straight but variable lines.
Kulu se Mama in Conference with Moe Betta over Lucy
16 x 22 inches
Acrylic on Canvas Board
Three African-inspired figures stand, statue-like, in a row. The smallest, on the left, is a female form, perhaps in the distance. The figure in the center is indigo blue and the other two are covered in geometric patterns in bright red and yellow.
Stop by our headquarters at 1155 Market Street to view the full exhibition!