ACCLAIMED TEXAS ARTIST John Bramblitt is celebrated for his brightly colored, impressionistic paintings, including portraits of close friends, family, and such famous folks as Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Animals are another favorite subject, including tropical birds, wild horses, and a loveable yellow lab named Eagle, who happens to be Bramblitt’s guide dog. You see, Bramblitt began painting after completely losing his vision in 2001 due to complications with epilepsy and Lyme disease.
Beginning Feb. 5, Denton-based Bramblitt will be in Houston to share his story and his art as the featured guest of the ReelAbilities Houston Film & Arts Festival. His paintings will be on view at Sabine Street Studios, and on Feb. 15, Bramblitt will speak at ReelPeople: UP Abilities about the trauma of losing his sight, and the joy of gaining the skill to paint.
Ever since Bramblitt was a child, art has been a lifeline. “I think I could draw before I could walk,” says Bramblitt, who drew with pencil and charcoal as a way of relieving the stress of living with epilepsy. The severe seizures would finally cause his vision to go from legal to complete blindness. After losing his sight, Bramblitt remained in school, but stopped drawing, figuring it was impossible for a blind person to create visual art, and focused on learning how to function and survive as a sightless person. But slowly, over time, while working through serious depression which included thoughts of suicide, Bramblitt gradually discovered he could realize the images he still saw in his mind’s eye by outlining shapes with raised lines on paper and canvas and learning to differentiate paint colors by touch and mix and create a full spectrum of unique hues.
Using his hands to feel the shape and features of the face, Bramblitt can paint startlingly accurate portraits, including one of his then-newborn, now 14-year-old son, Jeff. “I was able to feel his face within his first few breaths,” says Bramblitt, “and the color in my brain just exploded. All of my artwork since then has been in vibrant colors.” Up until that moment, Bramblitt was concerned that being sightless would impact his ability to parent. “I wondered, ‘How in the world are we going to throw a ball?’” says Bramblitt. “But life just finds a way, and being a dad has turned out to be the best thing in my life.”
Now a father and a married man for 15 years, Bramblitt shares the techniques he developed in the aftermath of losing his sight in multi-sensory workshops for artists of all ages and people with disabilities, including autism, Alzheimer’s disease, and PTSD. Participants learn how to create art while blindfolded, and the experience is revelatory. “I’ve never done a workshop where we aren’t all just laughing and having a good time,” says Bramblitt. He also advises museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dallas Museum of Art, and the Guggenheim, on how to create more inclusive experiences for their visitors, where not just one but all of the senses are used to experience and appreciate art. “The more senses we put into the art, the more we get out of it,” says Bramblitt.
For Bramblitt, all of this activity allows him to connect with people, something he struggled to do in the years before losing his vision, and share how a blind man visualizes the world. “The world is a far more colorful place now than when I was sighted,” says Bramblitt.
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