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Exploring a blind artist’s genius

Above, blind artist Eriko Watanabe's drawing New Year Waltz, Berlin. Below, John Kennedy displays a book of Watanabe's artwork.

When Professor John Kennedy discusses the drawings of visual artist Eriko Watanabe, it’s easy to forget one important thing – the artist in question is blind.

Kennedy, an expert in the field of perception psychology, is interested in what the work of blind artists can tell us about perception. He says Watanabe is remarkable because she has managed to conceive drawings and visual devices without formal training or the benefit of sight.

“The genius of Eriko’s work lies in an ability to create shapes to explain how she conceptualizes an object in her mind,” says Kennedy.

For instance, during a trip to Mexico Watanabe drew a series of pictures about what she experienced, using a pad that creates raised lines that can be felt and seen. She drew a glass of tequila with wavy lines emanating from it to illustrate the physical effects of the drink. A drawing of a swimmer showed a web of lines radiating from the hands and feet to represent the feeling of water rushing through fingers and toes.

“Eriko takes us into realms like few people can,” Kennedy says, adding she uses lines the same way a sighted artist would to illustrate a thought or feeling.  More importantly, Kennedy says her work further reveals that spatial awareness is possible to experience through touch as well as sight.

Kennedy, a UTSC professor emeritus in psychology, was in Kelowna, B.C. recently to help launch Just Imagine: An exhibition of works by blind and vision-impaired artists, which runs until mid-March at the Kelowna Art Gallery.

In addition to helping Watanabe select a portfolio for the exhibit, Kennedy also delivered guest lectures on his research at the University of British Columbia Okanagan and the art gallery in Kelowna, as well as participating in a round table discussion to officially kick off the exhibit.

Kennedy is currently writing about recent drawings Watanabe made of forests and of a Holocaust memorial in Berlin.

© University of Toronto Scarborough