Like O’Keeffe, many artists who eventually have only peripheral sight are pushed to explore new mediums. The tireless painter Hedda Sterne, diagnosed with AMD at the age of 83, discovered that she could no longer paint five years later. She found solace in drawing, and, unable to see color, made monochromatic sketches with graphite, oil pastel, and even Wite-Out. These spectral depictions of everyday life—a birch tree, an insect, a mother and child—consist of layers of delicate lines and faint smudgings; although they seem cursory, they convey Sterne’s total awareness of form.
In a similar vein, landscape painter
became legally blind in 1991 and stopped working with oil paints. Unable to see color, he instead embraced black and white ink, forming abstract forests on paper with dramatic strokes and stains. He even used his fingers to trace shapes he had known for decades; if you carefully observe his work, faint fingerprints appear in the scenes.
Thon was relying on his instinct, much like another painter in the exhibition, Dahlov Ipcar, who used her memory to keep working after vision loss. Phillips and Schumacher visited Ipcar in 2015, when the artist expressed fear that she was in the process of completing her final work. The painting in question is a tableau of a panther romping beneath three birds; though the brushwork is looser, it resembles a similar, pre-macular painting by the artist from 1972, which shows a pack of running canines. Commenced over 40 years later, Panther and Birds is a testament to how the Maine-based painter held on to the themes she adored since her childhood—lively scenes with animals prancing freely amid patterned backgrounds. Ipcar, who died last year, never did complete the painting, but the works she left behind reveal the playful, limitless visions that filled her mind for nine decades.