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Beyond the darkness: Artist shows Decatur students how to feel the colors

By Austin Jackson | Published Saturday, February 9, 2019
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Seeing Things Differently

SEEING THINGS DIFFERENTLY – Denton artist John Bramblitt instructs DeDe Diaczenko’s art class to feel the color as they paint a flower blindfolded Wednesday at McCarroll Middle School in Decatur. Bramblitt started painting when he lost his eyesight in 2001. He’s sold his work in 120 countries. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

McCarroll Middle School students in blindfolds fumbled about DeDe Diaczenko’s art class Wednesday.

This wasn’t an attempt at the #BirdBoxChallenge, but instead a lesson in creativity by Denton artist John Bramblitt.

In 2001, Bramblitt lost his eyesight after a series of seizures. His world went dark. But through painting, he found a way to feel the color of the world around him again.

“Feel the paint, feel the colors,” Bramblitt instructed the students Wednesday, who were engrossed in the task of painting a flower without use of their eyes.

They touched the paint with their fingers feeling each acrylic dollop of red, blue, yellow and white that carried a different texture.

Overcoming

OVERCOMING – Denton artist John Bramblitt lost his eyesight in 2001 after complications from epilepsy and Lyme disease. He used painting to overcome depression and eventually found his voice through art. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

It was the way Bramblitt discovered his lifelong passion of art and expression wasn’t over after losing his eyesight.

When Bramblitt started painting, it wasn’t necessarily about creating a world renowned piece of art. It was about becoming whole again.

“Art came to me at a time when it shouldn’t have,” Bramblitt said. “Blind people didn’t paint. But it helped me. It helped me so much. I think it’s so important to know art isn’t about making a pretty picture. It’s about making mistakes and expressing yourself.”

Bramblitt had recently graduated at the University of North Texas with hopes of becoming a creative writing teacher when complications from epilepsy and Lyme disease took the last of his eyesight.

He said he went through severe depression in the weeks that followed. Through painting and ‘seeing through touch,’ Bramblitt discovered he could capture the colors around him again.

“For me, when I was dealing with all this bad stuff, being in the moment was important,” he said. “I didn’t realize how depressed I was. Then I started painting 12 to 16 hours a day. It was a way to be in the moment. I was in the moment and not stressed anymore.”

“My early paintings were very dark, but over time they started getting brighter and brighter.”

He taught himself how to paint by using raised lines to guide him around the canvas. He then discovered different color paints had different textures. He began using his hands to see, touching peoples’ faces to get an idea of what they look like.

Bramblitt’s use of color expresses the emotions he feels from his subjects.

“I’ve never seen my son with my eyes. I’ve never seen my wife with my eyes. But I use my hands to see them,” he said, referencing the painting of his son in the classroom. “I know he doesn’t have orange on his face, well he might he likes getting paint all over him. But I know his skin color isn’t like that. But the emotions, the way that he feels, that’s the way he feels to me.”

Bramblitt’s work, which started as a coping mechanism, has taken him farther than he could ever imagine.

He’s sold his work in more than 120 countries, with his subjects spanning from his family to portraits of celebrities like Jeff Bridges and Tony Hawk.

A large part of his message to students at Diaczenko’s class was inspiring them to overcome what others would perceive as a disability. When Bramblitt started painting, he said blind painters didn’t exist.

Since his story has spread across the world, being featured on major network news outlets and on viral YouTube videos, several blind artists have started painting.

“One of the important things for the kids to know is that a person with a disability, if you only know from what you see on TV and movies, you get a skewed idea what a person with a disability can do or what their life is like,” Bramblitt said. “So I think it’s great to go out and give them a different idea of what that’s like. A person that’s blind doesn’t have the limitations you would think.”

With paint on their fingers and smiles stretched across their faces, the students showed off their flowers, surprised about what they were able to do.

Bramblitt said that response is the reason why he does these workshops.

“These kids are incredible,” Bramblitt added. “You can hear them really working. These kids were so involved. It’s nice for me because I work with so many adults in different galleries and adults in the art world can be so critical and close minded. It’s refreshing to be around kids that are so open minded and ready to experience new things.”

Diaczenko said it was great opportunity for her students, not only to learn how to increase their knowledge and understanding of paint, but also in overcoming adversity.

“When you take out one of those senses, you really have to rely on the others to pick up the slack,” she said. “When they’re all in their blindfolds, that is some amazing art work. Just watching them figure it out. That’s what drew me to him. He had overcome so much and used art as a way of getting through struggles. These kids might not have hit struggles yet, but if we can give them some tools to use, if they do face adversity it’s great. It’s great to see as an art teacher.”

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