Blind artist brightens our eyes

EMU Plains artist Susan Oxenham cannot see her latest work Awakening — Bright Eyes, which depicts the Yates’ garden product, Cosmos Bright Eyes flowers, against a reddish sky.

In fact Oxenham has been unable to completely see her paintings or photographs for many years, even though she has exhibited most, sold many and won awards for them.

She suffers from Von Hippel-Lindau disease: benign tumour growth in the eyes which ultimately destroys almost all vision.

‘‘I’ve donated Awakening — Bright Eyes to Retina Australia, which funds research into eye diseases,’’ Oxenham said.

‘‘Retina Australia sponsored all of my relatives to have DNA screening for Von Hippel-Lindau disease; that costs a lot of money.’’

She used the Yates product in her work because that company regularly donates Bright Eyes’ seeds to Retina Australia.

Oxenham has battled failing eyesight by using her remaining senses to continue painting and even to photograph.

Last year she won the Autumn Artfest Best Photo award for her black-and-white photograph of Uluru, Beyond Visual Spectrum.

She photographed the rock by carefully studying shadows cast by nearby trees and the fading light.

Oxenham keeps different coloured paints in containers with large letters, so she is able to read them.

She also uses rough materials, such as gravel, bark and egg shells and feels the texture of her work as she applies these to canvas.

She created Bright Eyes by painting the background dark-red and using luminous white paint, which she could just see, to represent the flowers’ petals.

‘‘I didn’t actually paint the stems; I pulled different yarns of wool through the paint and put them on the canvas,’’ Oxenham said.

She later removed the wool yarns, leaving their impressions in place.

Oxenham said she enjoys the unusual challenges of her painting and hopes her work inspires other people to overcome barriers in their lives.

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