People, Places & Things: Pastels by Stella M. De Genova
I was born and still reside in Chicago, Illinois. I am a legally blind artist with a retinal disease called retinitis pigmentosa (RP),* which I have had since childhood. (Did you know that only 15% of all legally blind people are actually totally blind?) I have enjoyed drawing since I was very young and have taken art classes throughout my life. Although more than 80% of what I see in the physical world ranges from muted colors to black, and a 90% smaller field of vision (tunnel vision), there is a world of color and images in my head, waiting to be put on paper. My earlier works were mainly detailed sketches. I now mainly work with pastels for their richness of color and soft effect. If working from a photograph, I will magnify the image so I can still see some detail. In doing so, I discovered that painting a picture of a magnified image can create an interesting effect in itself. I’ve always loved French impressionism for its fun use of color and looseness. Since I now have difficulty deciphering colors, I may print my photo reference in black & white just to get the values and don’t worry about what actual hue I’m using. I use my visual impairment as another tool for creativity and discovery, resulting in my own unique style. By the time a painting is finished, it may or may not resemble my original idea. My favorite pieces are those that have taken on a life of their own. As my vision changes, so does my approach to making my art. I’ve also come to realize that where I can’t depend on my vision, I depend on my inner spirit.
I use creativity as a means of expression and self-healing. In that spirit, I introduced the Creative Eye series of creativity/art therapy workshops at Second Sense: beyond vision loss. The participants have had fun as well as received the therapeutic benefits of creating something of their own. We had tactile art projects and creative writing workshops, which have run from 2012 through 2015. I enjoy helping others discover that we all have the ability to create!
*Retinitis pigmentosa is a genetic disease that causes abnormalities of the photoreceptors (rods and cones) of the retina, which leads to progressive visual loss. This condition typically starts with night blindness. Gradually, peripheral vision diminishes, creating a tunnel vision effect. The central vision will also diminish and may lead to total blindness.