"Most people think it's not possible, but the rest of us are out here slogging away," said Wingwall
, whose ability to perceive light all but vanished about four years ago from retinitis pigmentosa, a hereditary disease she
has had since she
was a young woman.
Opening Feb. 17, a companion show at the Townsend focuses on Wingwall's
, who is married to architect and UC Berkeley
architecture professor Donlyn Lyndon and has three children and three grandchildren, has advantages that many blind artists lack.She
had been a respected conceptual artist long before her
disability developed slowly, enabling her
to adjust.Perhaps most important, her
visual memory is rich from a lifetime of working and traveling. She
can't make out edges now unless the light is very bright, but memory keeps her
encounters with sculpture and architecture alive in her
mind and available to guide new work, such as "Cordelia's Granite Waterway," a four- pooled water sculpture she
created in 2002 for a residence in Austin, Texas.She
can't see colors, but memory lets her
favorite -- magenta -- as intensely as when her
eyes could translate to her
brain the frequency known as red.
In some ways color is more vital to Wingwall
as a blind woman.Along with humor and industry, it's a critical part of how she
spirit and identity strong in spite of the trauma of her
attitude every day by wearing bright clothes.
"I have this one idea, which is 'see or be seen,' " she
said."If I can't see, I'm going to make myself feel better and everybody else look at these wonderful colors -- mostly red, orange, electric blue, magenta, fuchsia."
Along with fully lit memories, Wingwall
combines elements gathered by touch and sound as her
vision faded and finally went dark.
"It's like now he's
entered my life and he's
a gigantic presence," Wingwall
The adjustments in perspective that Wingwall
has made since going blind also apply to how she
has a newfound freedom about where the edges of a picture should go.The clear-cut centering that a person with eyesight takes for granted isn't available to someone who can't see.
"The edge just starts going," Wingwall
said."I don't really start with the frame.Lately I've been trying to work with things, trying to bunch up against the frame."
A photographer fully tuned to light and architectural history might see her
task as to capture the full unity of a building such as San Trovaso
, a historic church in Venice.But to make her
"Self-Portrait at San Trovaso," Wingwall
photographed the front of the church and composed a mosaic of architectural parts and parts of herself.Curved decorative stone pieces became hair curls around her
face, a round window became her
torso, an engraved stone from ancient Rome her
pelvis and a column one of her
legs, paired with an image of one of her
real legs. Wingwall's
passion for architecture is reflected in her
name.Inspired by a street shrine on a Roman building with a stone cherub who seemed to be pulling the building forward despite having lost one of her wings, she changed her name to Wingwall in 1980.She
was born Alice Atkinson in Indianapolis and grew up in rural Indiana. Wingwall
co-directed a short autobiographical film, "Miss BlindSight/The Wingwall Auditions."Since going blind she
has become more interested in movement and hopes to make more films.
"You can have bad days," she
said."You can sit there and cry.Then you think there's always something I want to do.Better get up and load the film."
In addition to photography, Wingwall
is working on a project with a rugmaker in Sonoma County, Hansine Pedersen Goran.They're designing a rug based on one of her
drawings, showing the artist's hand holding a coin with a Roman temple engraved on it.She
is working on a second design that will be dominated by dark red and will include a written message.
"What I'm going to have on that one are Braille dots for three words: lumière, magenta and aileron," she
-- "Blind at the Museum," an exhibition of the work of Alice Wingwall
and other blind or visually impaired artists, UC Berkeley
Art Museum, through July 24. $8, $5 for seniors and students ages 12-18. (510) 642-0808. www.bampfa.berkeley.edu.
-- A free public conference on visual impairment and art is set for 4-7 p.m. March 11-12, in the Museum Theater, with a public reception for the artist 6-7 p.m. March 11.
-- A companion show highlighting Wingwall's
work runs Feb.17-April 4 at the Townsend Center Gallery
, 220 Stephens Hall on the UC campus.A conversation between Wingwall and John Terry, dean of fine arts at the Rhode Island School of Design, with a screening of Wingwall's film "Miss BlindSight/The Wingwall Auditions," takes place at the gallery 4 to 6 p.m. March 3.A conversation between Wingwall and John Terry, dean of fine arts at the Rhode Island School of Design, with a screening of Wingwall's film "Miss BlindSight/The Wingwall Auditions," takes place at the gallery 4 to 6 p.m. March 3.