Each month we choose one of the fantastic artists represented on our website to be our Artist of the Month.
This month it is Clarke Reynolds who describes himself as ‘a blind visual artist’ and admits he enjoys people’s reaction to that.
Here he shares his journey, how art has helped and how he wants to challenge ideas and engage new audiences with his work.
Why did you start making art?
Apart from model making, I have never been taught to draw or paint – it has always come from the heart. Art has always been a constant in my life, if I wasn’t into art I don’t think I would have had the capacity to carry on.
I started losing my eyesight at the age of four and at six I could only see light and shadows with my right eye. I want to be a role model for my daughter and show, no matter what your disability is, you can reach your dreams. If you are an artist it could be the scariest thing to lose your sight but I have embraced it. If you were swimming and opened your eyes underwater that is how I see, it is the lights and it is distorted – I know there is no cure for retinas pigmentosa so this time next month my vision will be worse.
How would you describe your pieces?
My art has changed so much and keeps changing as my vision does. It is so exciting at the moment – I am just discovering the art myself.
I still like to do things with my hands and I am making pompoms and doing finger knitting at the moment. I enjoy the repetitiveness. I have to be doing something with my hands, even when I am just sitting there I will be twiddling my thumbs – there is a world record for that you know, I think it is 27 hours and I do find myself wondering if I could beat it, but the boxset of Friends on or something you know.
But could you sit there and not move your hands for that long?
Oh no, not at all, that would be the harder record.
The senses are a key source of inspiration for
you, can you tell us more about this?
Take the visual out of it and you start to hear, you listen to conversations, the sounds of the trains, the buses, the possibilities are endless.
Noise is everywhere, take credit card machines for example – they don’t make a noise to say the transaction is complete, there is no beep, there should be – so I listen out for the ticket reel instead. Fingers crossed I can get the grant fund from the arts council for sound equipment so I can make the recordings myself. Phoenix has said it has the space for me next year if I get it.
I listen to the recordings, like the one of the hovercraft coming into Portsmouth, when I am painting – that one goes with my piece Rough Seas.
Using fabric was an accident, all art things are an accident I think. It was a case of how do I translate smells onto the canvas? I thought if I used fabric I can carry it around too.
I made Persian fields for my landlord, he likes his spice and he cooks a lot, plus everyone likes a curry. That piece was inspired by my travels in Egypt. I toasted the spices then put them in hot water, then I put the pillowcase in to soak for a day. It still had the chilli flakes in it. Ironically my sense of smell isn’t great so it has to be really pungent and because that works with your tastebuds they aren’t great as well.
What do you hope people take from your work?
When people are blind they are told just to work with clay – it is these people I want to challenge, change their perception of what art is.
The reason I am doing to artwork I do is so I can get the visually impaired community engaged and perceiving it in a different way. Hopefully it is a whole experience, if they can see a bit or if they can feel it or smell it.
For Joe Bloggs I want them to go in there, with the exhibitions, and hopefully not know it is by a blind person until they read a card or something explaining that then they can understand it. Loss of hearing is a different thing but there is the texture and the sight so hopefully it can work for them too. Hopefully it will work on all levels of disability.
What interests you outside of art?
The 2000 Olympics was my first ambition, I used to do 100m in 11.72 seconds.
For the last season and a half I have played Blind Cricket for Hampshire and Sussex as well – we won the cup last year. I am an opening batman.I was just nominated as best newcomer, a national award from the British Blind Cricket Association, which puts me in the top five.
Along with sport I love Lego, tattoos and baking.
My world is different now, I love my films and I go to the cinema – I would say everyone should try it with the audio descript. I used to go three times a week but didn’t go for a year when I was diagnosed.
Do you have any creative role models?
You know a Henry Moore is soft just from looking at it.
Will Cruikshank has been a great inspiration. When he was making the artwork he wasn’t thinking about people like me but even from across the room you want to touch it. When you do you can feel how he created it, you can feel the ridges of the jetwash when he made it.
Yellow Cow by Franz Marc inspired me a lot too and pointillism – it is the way I see. I used to make artworks using thousands of wooden dowels, Club vs Country has 9,000 as does J.F.K.
I would grid it out, 10mm by 10mm, then handrill each hole. The result was very tactile, without me realising it, it is not something I can do really now.
The dowels would range from 10mm to 40mm in length and the holes were 5mm deep so I could do different levels. If I still had my sight I would have continued and do them and I would have gone big – I’m talking pieces in hotel lobbies, 100,000 dowels.
Now it is Jackson Pollock and his chaos paintings, but chaos with emotional elements.
Can you explain more about how your work brings places or experiences and emotions together?
I am doing a piece now for my mother which is of Stonehenge and I am using my brother’s ashes in it, it was his favourite place. It’s called Son, Brother, Uncle, because that is what he was to us all.
My work takes hours and hours but it is so therapeutic for me.
I have done one inspired by the way the water brings in the shingle and takes it away again on the beach, I think there must be 25 hours of stitching in it, it is called Thousand Pebbles.
I have always been a landscape painter but now I see it in a different way. All the places I have been to have a nautical feel, my dad was in the navy and I was born in Plymouth before moving to Scotland, Gosport then Portsmouth and I studied at university in Rochester.
Next I am going to do it with the periodic table, for instance gold – it will be something people can touch and it will be audio described. I was thinking of making a pod which will be a triangle so you will have gas, liquid and solid on the sides.
Is there an artwork you are most proud of?
If Cezanne Could Do It So Could I.
He reinvented the way we look at still life, before him it was very staged but he threw it all out of the window and said ‘this is how you do a still life’.
For me that piece was my still life, it was my bowl of fruit. Having the fabric and the sounds of the chopping and squeezing, I also had little spray bottles with the citrus juice in which I sprayed on it.
It came about as part of a residency in Fareham which was all about experimenting. I started using the syringes filled with paint then.
What is next for you creatively?
I have done the landscapes, I have done the still life and Reborn will be my portrait. This piece will be my best piece and having it probably will change everything.
Rebirth is good for me, it is a new chapter in my life.
It is for the Sticks Gallery, Live Art Local competition and will see a womblike installation in a pop up tent. There is no point of sketching it out, it is quite organic. I go into the fabric shop and feel the materials.
I am not quite sure how it will turn out, I have given the responsibility of the sound to Dave Sherville – I have said to him I want it like you are underwater because in the womb you are in fluid, then hopefully there will be a link with what I am creating.
Do you have any outstanding ambitions?
You can be the most talented person in the world but it is just about luck – 90 per cent of it is luck. I have been doing art for 30 years and this is the most successful I have ever been.
I would love to have something in the Turbine Room at the Tate, I would also love to do a collaboration with someone who has sight as well.
I would love to teach sessions, some people might think a blind person giving a sighted person lessons? But I think it would free them up.
I am possibly going to get away from the mark making because I can’t really see it, but it will be the fabric and the stitching – using wool as my paint.