Delaware artist Trebs Thompson calmly yet emotionally explained her new work on Facebook this week.
“ ‘Losing Sight’ is the first panel of a room divider that will complete my self-exploration on the question: What it means to be a visual artist who is going blind.”
For years, she has created in stained glass, wool and found objects.
Six years ago, she learned she had parafoveal macular telangiectasia, a condition that is complex (the American Academy of Ophthalmology definition runs 871 words) and rare (2,800 people diagnosed worldwide). She increasingly has no depth perception, has no central vision in her right eye and cannot read for long periods.
“For some, it stops, and they can still drive,” she said in a phone interview from Whimsical Farms, her 15-acre farm devoted to heirloom animals and produce, just north of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. “For others, they lose all their sight.”
For Thompson, the condition has inspired her to create a three-panel room divider on her journey. “All three panels incorporate previous works that have been deconstructed and then reconstructed with new symbolism.”
In “Losing Sight,” “I see my vision and life as an artist as a fleeting thing. … The 13 pairs of glasses that I went through after my diagnosis, as my doctor struggled to make adjustments that would help me continue to have some quality of vision are reimagined as butterflies.”
“The lumpy, broken-up tangled lines and distorted background glass are deliberately selected for the viewer, now seeing the world as I do: without detail or solid reference. The only clear glass is behind the lenses I use.”
“The clock with letters instead of numbers is a statement about my inability to get useful information in the ways that I always have.”
“The eyes surrounded by mirrored bits represent occlusions, visual disturbances, floaters, ocular migraines and some of the other indignities that go along with blinding eye conditions. They also invite you to see a degrading body, even if it is only normal aging.”
The second panel, “Going Dark,” showcases an old painted piece, with the kind of detail that she can no longer accomplish. The third is untitled and still just an idea.
The divider will eventually be offered for sale.
Despite her visual restrictions, Thompson remains optimistic. “The only way for me to approach it is to say I’m going to do things, but do them differently. The positive outlook is that it will force me to have experiences I wouldn’t have had.”
“Trebs, the clear glass is your soul,” E. Talley Brown wrote on Facebook, where Thompson’s posts have zoomed in on parts on the work, intensifying its symbolism and power. “You see the world more clearly, compassionately, lovingly and strongly than anyone else I know. Thank you for always helping me see clearly.”
“Beautiful and tragic at the same time,” Robin Berry wrote. “Makes me feel awe and sorrow tinged with hope.”
“There is always hope!” Thompson replied.