1. What is your profession and why did you decide to choose this field?
For me, it was escapism as from the age of four I started to lose sight in my right eye. Going to the hospital every week, having patches and drops in my good eye, hoping it would help, but it never did. So, I was left with two blurry eyes sitting at the back of the class because I couldn't take part in anything. Art at that age helped me and was a solitary hobby that turned into passion. So, I grew up with limited sight in the right eye but never looked upon it as a disability, and art was what I wanted to do as a career. Then in my early teens, I got very ill with bad kidneys and had to leave school at the age of 14 with only a GCSE in art. I'm a fighter, so I overcame this, and went back into education five years later, gaining a GNVQ and diploma in art and design as well as getting a BA honours degree in model making. No matter what has happened in my life art has always been a constant. I was a dental model maker, and I loved my job making and creating. Then I started to lose my sight in the left eye at the age of 33 but art was still there.
2. What is the most rewarding thing about what you do?
In 2019 I did a massive community art project for Portsmouth festivities called Eye Sea Squares 2020. The idea was to make a large tapestry inspired by the sound of the sea so that you can still experience art no matter the sight loss. Over 1000 people took part, including five schools. I also hosted a variety of workshops where people of all ages created an abstract tactile art inspired by the sound of the sea. The final piece was over 16 metres long and took 600 hours to sew. From this, BBC News did an interview with me, and a local gallery gave me the opportunity for my first solo exhibition. It only took 20 years. What was amazing was the amount of visually impaired people visiting and hugging the walls, as we are often taught that you cannot touch art.
My recent work and my art practice have been inspired by the English language, how we say things, the descriptive power, which is important to a visually impaired person as we see the world as words. And I tell people that I see by looking through a thousand dots. I started to learn Braille, and as an artist, I was fascinated with the design, and it only took me three weeks to learn it. I made a piece called My Rosetta Stone, where I enlarged the Braille dot to button size and made the alphabet. That is when a lightbulb went off in my head why can't Braille be an art form. Like a typographer who uses letters to create art, I wanted to use the dot as those dots mean something to me on a deeper level. So, I take words and their descriptive power and try to use the Braille dots to host that word using different tactile mediums like textiles, 3D, and also print. I hope to teach Braille through my art, as I believe people with sight can learn Braille through the pattern. I was fortunate enough to make history last year by printing Braille on a Stanhope press machine, the same one that printed the original London Underground posters, and it worked. Those 15 weeks were amazing for me with four online exhibitions, including one in Rome and another in Washington DC.
My most recent accomplishment is a Portsmouth arts trail where I created a Rainbow Braille of Unsung Heroes. Hopefully, when people see my art, they will ask questions about the design. In the last two years, I've been nominated for Best Visual Artist of the Year by the Portsmouth guide awards, and it is amazing to compete with other artists who can see.
3. What is your advice to all the other VIPs around the world who don't believe they can be successful in the area of their interest because of their disability?
I would say to other visually impaired people to follow your dreams. People always ask me how you can do art if you can't see. Then they talk to me and see my passion for art. My dream is to be an artist and push the boundaries of what visually impaired people can do. I've met amazing people who are visually impaired and creative, including a furniture designer Duncan Meerding from Tasmania, who was told he can't work with tools as it's unsafe. He defied the odds to become an award-winning lighting designer selling his lights to the likes of Google. He inspired me as I want to show the world my unique art as well as hold workshops teaching Braille in an art form as that is my art practice. I have had many knocks in my life, but art has always been a constant. No matter my sight loss art will always be in my heart, and I will continue being creative.
Unsung Heroes in Rainbow Braille
Here is my biggest achievement to date. My art piece is called Unsung Heroes in Rainbow Braille. Those dots are people who have kept this country going during COVID like teachers, care workers, etc. It was turned into a poster and put in an arts trail in Portsmouth.