I was born, and remain, blind in one eye. I was visually impaired in the other. As a child, I painted constantly, with my face pressed close to the canvas. I was living in a cloud. I only painted objects that were close to me because my visual world was smaller. I would have to really look and study things to make them out. I could not recognize someone more than three feet from me. Blue eyes? I didn't know what blue eyes were. Distant views were not something that I knew — and would certainly never paint.
I’d start a drawing, often copying a photograph of a face, and stay up, reworking parts of it. I remember, at age eight, working on a nose for three hours. My mother never had a clue what I was doing all hours of the night. Then, in school the next day, I sometimes fell asleep. Teachers worried that something was wrong.
As a teenager I developed cataracts. In art school, I stood out. The assignment would be to paint a bowl, so I would — but it always looked different from everyone else’s bowls. My vision was blurry, and I painted what I saw, so it came out looking very impressionistic.
I hated my faulty vision, and I hated the paintings that were produced by that vision. My beautiful blurry paintings were only blurry because that’s how I saw. And everyone wanted to paint blurry like I did. I knew that if I had perfect vision, my work would look very different. I worried that if my cataracts were removed, giving me perfect vision, the work would no longer be unique. I felt like a fraud. I often threw my paintings in the garbage, only to have them dug out by well-meaning students, left by my door, a note attached: “Reconsider this.”
At age 22, I was operated on for my cataracts and was given perfect vision for the first time in my life. Bugs were no longer just bugs; there were striped bees, red-dotted ladybugs, houseflies with clear wings, and some bugs even had hair. How strange. There was dirt and dust everywhere. And people didn’t just have eyes; eyes were different colors, blue, brown, even gray. And their skin was a messy collage of wrinkles, scars. and hair.
At first it felt like I was watching a movie featuring someone else’s vision. It was so clear that it didn’t seem as though it belonged to me. It was too much for me to handle. It took me years to feel that it belonged to me — that it was mine and not someone else's. I had to relearn how to paint.
After painting fruit, I am now drawn to flowers, specifically roses. Roses interest me because they are multi-layered, have many intersecting planes, are delicate and colorful, opaque and translucent. I carve out the shapes and try to catch the flickering light on the petals. Each rose has intricate depth and many abstract shapes. I enjoy integrating the compositions with the depth of the petals, their abstract shapes, and the flatness of the picture plane.
I developed a fondness for roses because my husband planted many rose bushes at our Port Jefferson home where my studio is located. Each summer I enjoy watching them bloom with color.
Carmela Kolman
August 2016
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