Artist finds creativity through his blindness

Artist finds creativity through his blindness

Artist finds creativity through his blindness
September 30
00:08 2014

Dalton LaFerney / Senior Staff Writer

It was just him and Echo, a black Labrador, avoiding disruptive puddles as they walked down a rainy brick road, venturing deep into the dark woods of Central Park. Above, looming rain clouds opposed sunlight after Hurricane Sandy paraded through New York City in 2012.

The city was quiet. They had it all to themselves.

John Bramblitt’s senses were expressed on a canvas later when he recounted his emotions of that day, which is now displayed in his home studio in Denton.

“Touch has a lot of meaning,” he said. “I paint it in my mind first, before it ever goes onto a canvas.”

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John Bramblitt paints in his home studio on Sunday. Bramblitt said he feels most creative during the night. A form of epilepsy caused cascading temporal lobe seizures, which increasingly damaged his sight over a course of several years.

Coping with darkness

The 41-year-old artist lost his eyesight in 2001, after a long battle with a form of epilepsy that caused temporal lobe seizures to damage his eyesight. He was a student at UNT at the time.

He has since made a living by selling his art internationally, with only 5 percent of his profit coming locally.

“When I first lost my eyesight, my life was over,” Bramblitt said. “I was going to have to leave school. I couldn’t read or write.”

Bramblitt did leave UNT in 2001, only to return in 2004 to connect with the university’s Office of Disability Accommodation that December. The office kept him on the course to graduation with its educational and life assistance programs.

“I’ve talked all over the country and I’ve praised UNT,” Bramblitt said. “The support that you have there, you don’t have everywhere. The people at ODA are brilliant.”

Ron Venable, director of ODA, worked with Bramblitt.

“He was always such a incredibly motivated person and so determined to not let anything stand in his way,” Venable said. “He was one of those students you felt was going to make it in life. He had the right attitude, people skills and natural talent.”

In his dimly lit home studio in Denton, where his walls are decorated with his work, music plays while he works — sometimes for 16 hours straight. He listens to the likes of Vampire Weekend, Daft Punk and Parov Stelar.

“Sound is huge for me. For most of the paintings, the color comes from music,” Bramblitt said, with Echo at his feet, listening in. “Whenever I lost my eyesight, it was the only place I was getting color from, so music started meaning a whole lot more to me.”

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A few pieces by John Bramblitt. Bramblitt lost his sight in 2001 and turned to painting, a new medium for him.

Bramblitt has synesthesia, a neurological phenomena in which one sense stimulates another sense. Biology professor Jannon Fuchs said many people who have the condition think synesthesia is normal. Bramblitt did his whole life.

“Some people have perfect pitch because they see a color,” Fuchs said. “They realize their pitch is off because the color isn’t shaded right.”

For a year after he lost his sight, Bramblitt’s saw only darkness. He battled depression throughout his life due to his health issues, but being blind was another story.

“I was so angry I didn’t realize I was angry,” he said. “I thought I was fine. I was doing everything I was supposed to do, but underneath I was seething. I thought I knew what it was like to be depressed, but man, I had no idea.”

The calming Echo

One day, Bramblitt was walking down the street and, out of nowhere, he fell. To this day, a scar nestles on the back of his head, reminding him of his momentous transition.

But that was before the unreserved Echo, with her happy demeanor and welcoming tail, came along. She was 2 years old when they became family and the pair now travels all over the country many times a month.

Bramblitt said Echo, who is nominated for the Animal Hall of Fame, has saved him from many accidents. He also said the pooch is beloved by his wife and 6-year-old son.

“She gets excited when we walk into a hotel or an airport,” he said. “We travel a bunch, and I ask her to find everything.”

He said Echo doesn’t bark much or make any noise — except when she’s chasing rabbits in her dreams.

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John Bramblitt’s guitar that he painted was inspired by a candy skull. The guitar will be used for Art on Music in Indianapolis in November.

Inspiring art

Bramblitt has a vision for art, and passionately shares it with hundreds of professionals and students around the country. He gained notoriety after international media such as The New York Times made news of his story.

“Most of the work I do in the museums has a disability slant, but they are for anybody,” he said.  “I do lots of different workshops.”

October is Art Beyond Sight Awareness Month. This month, as well as November, has slated a heavy itinerary for Bramblitt and Echo. One of their destinations is Indianapolis, where he will work with fellow artist Pete Brown.

“I am a sighted artist who creates tactile artwork that is meant to be explored by folks through touch,” Brown said. “This new exhibition was sparked by an exhibition that I did specifically for Bosma Enterprises — a local organization that serves people who are visually impaired.”

One method Bramblitt uses to show his process is to blindfold children and teach them how to paint his way. He said within five to 10 minutes, they’re painting. They learn how to mix the colors by feeling the texture of the paint. Next month, he said he’ll integrate music with the kids.

“It’s a natural thing,” Bramblitt said. “One of the great things about music, writing and art is that they are really synonymous. Music can make you feel. It gets into your brain and your heart. Painting can do the same thing. Even the terminology we use, like ‘composition’ in painting, are used in writing.”

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A view of Bramblitt’s workspace. Bramblitt said when he hears music he sees color. This is known as synesthesia, a neurological ability that allows one sense to be triggered by another.

The process

Bramblitt said painting is more about a feeling the artist feels from the piece and he said that is more apparent now than ever.

He navigates around his cluttered studio to mix the paints and then begins dressing the naked canvas. He’s guided by the coordinated rhythms and beats of mellow, provoking music that inspires him from multiple speakers about the room.

His brushes dance across the scape, influenced by jazzy tunes. A painting of watchful eyes on the wall closest to the door looks over him. He paints thick, dividing lines that negotiate running colors to arrange a synchronized idea of color and drama.

Even his pillow invites creativity with a new world for Bramblitt in his dreams. He often dreams in paints, he said. When he uses acrylics, he’ll snooze in an acrylic world.

Reality is overshadowed when textures give him colors. Coffee is green, sugar is yellow and the soft touch of a woman’s skin gives him the light composition of watercolors.

“It’s more about a feeling,” Bramblitt said. “I’m happier now than I have been my whole life, not because of the blindness, but I think it changed my perspective. I appreciate things more.”

Bramblitt’s work can be found on his website (www.bramblitt.myshopify.com).

Featured Image: John Bramblitt, a blind painter, poses with his works in his home studio. Photo by Byron Thompson – Senior Staff Photographer

Featured Video by Byron Thompson – Senior Staff Photographer

About Author

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton LaFerney

Dalton is the editor of the Daily.

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