This article appeared in the Orange County Register:
Blind Artists Display Work in Fullerton
By Courtney Perkes:
Anthony Sanaee’s eyes are dark and expressive, like the mesmerizing eyes he creates with a charcoal pencil. At his desk pushed against the window in his Laguna Hills bedroom, Sanaee hunches inches over a sheet of paper as he draws a pupil and long eyelashes. The college student says eyes fascinate him. He is among 44 blind and visually impaired artists showcasing their work in the new exhibit “Shared Visions” at the Southern California College of Optometry in Fullerton.
He is displaying a drawing of an enormous eye and a self-portrait, along with his renderings of actor Heath Ledger as the Joker and Marilyn Monroe. The exhibit’s 93 paintings, ceramic pieces, photographs and wood carvings will be on view through August.
“I love charcoal,” Sanaee said of his medium of choice. “It’s a lot easier to see with my eyes because it’s darker.” Sanaee, 21, has turned his bedroom into a canvas and gallery. Two guitars are mounted on the wall. A piece of sheet music, enlarged to the size of a poster so he can read the notes, hangs near his desk. His door is painted black, and on it he’s creating an anime-inspired figure in white charcoal. “It helps me,” he said. “It keeps me calm. It distracts me.”
Sanaee was diagnosed at age 4 with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic condition that creates a tunnel vision effect because of damage to the light-sensitive receptors of the retina. He’s studying graphic design at Santa Ana College. His mother, Mercedes Sanaee, said he has always spent hours drawing. “I’m not sure where it all came from,” she said. “It’s kind of like the eye condition. Who knows?”
Sanaee, who is legally blind, said an art teacher told him that his limited vision brings an impressionistic look to his paintings because he conveys a larger perspective in soft brush strokes rather than homing in on sharp details. He rejects bulky glasses and other magnifying tools. Instead he uses the camera on his smartphone to enlarge still-life images that he wants to paint or draw. At times he has struggled in art class, such as when assigned to sketch a model from a distance.
“If I do have something that’s blocking me, I’ll find my way around it,” he said. “Last year with live drawing with a model, I couldn’t take a picture. I sat as close as I could. I took my time on it.” For the second time, Sanaee is showing in “Shared Visions.” He will attend a reception Friday that’s open to the public.
“I think it’s given him a lot of confidence,” Mercedes Sanaee said. “It’s really helped him to mature. Every year he goes and talks to everyone when he presents his work.”
Dr. Catherine Heyman, chief of the college’s low-vision department, said the exhibit empowers those who can share their view of the world despite their lack of 20/20 vision. In the show’s catalog, one artist observes, “There is a lot to see if you close your eyes.” The artists in the show come from across the U.S., and Israel and Canada. A number of the works are for sale and all proceeds go to the artists. Their eye conditions include cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma. Several artists are completely blind. “There’s a lot of psychological aspects to losing your vision that can change how you view yourself, to where you don’t feel you have the same value,” Heyman said. “For those of us who are sighted, who take it for granted, you see a different perspective when you look at this art.”
Kathy Kennedy, another featured artist, was 6 when she started losing her vision because of a brain tumor compressing her optic nerve. “They discovered it because of my vision loss,” Kennedy said. “I couldn’t read. I kept turning books upside down.” She underwent surgery to remove the malignant tumor and has been cancer-free since. But Kennedy, 53, has no peripheral vision and is almost completely blind in one eye. Her other eye is 20/400, considered severe visual impairment. Kennedy, who lives in La Habra, loved drawing as a child but outgrew art until a recent mosaic class at the Braille Institute in Anaheim. She loves the tactile sensation of working with tile. She spent more than a year cutting mosaic tile and arranging a cheerful scene of butterflies in a colorful flower garden. Kennedy affixed the tiles in place with assistance from a magnification device. “I was hooked,” she said. “The tile gives you something that you can express your creativity. It’s doing something you can feel and touch.”