Tactile Vision by Chappelle Letman

Curator’s Statement

What exactly is visual art?  One may state the obvious and say: “It is an aesthetic expression or form of communication that is made and appreciated by our sense of sight.”

Please read Chappelle’s statement and you will discover that the obvious isn’t always so obvious!  “Beauty is in the hands of the beholder!”

This week, I choose to let Chappelle and his art make the statement. You will be amazed.  I promise!

Artist Statement

I am a mature artist, 64 years old.  I studied, worked, drew, painted, and sculpted my entire life.  I worked and starved my way through different phases of the development of my intellectual, artistic, and spiritual competencies.  And now at 60 years old I am finally beginning to understand the breadth and depth of what this work, this vocation, this life’s pursuit has meant to me, and I am beginning to be able to understand that I am giving something of myself back through the work.

I began as many young people do by drawing and sketching.  Growing up in Brooklyn, New York offered me a never ending subject matter.  I was good enough to study at Albert Pels School of Art, and later get accepted and study at Pratt Institute.  I was a member of the Arts Student’s League in New York and an invited artist in residence at Studio Museum of Harlem.  I set out for adventure and work – not all in the field of art.  I did survival jobs to live and eat.  I went to California and attended and graduated from the California College of the Arts.  I began to sell my pieces and began to become more driven by the need to create, express, and react to the world through my art.  I worked as a sign painter in Alaska to earn enough money to continue painting.

My paintings began to draw some notice.  I sold paintings to jazz artists Sarah Vaughn and Miles Davis in California.  I sold to some corporate patrons, and private collectors.  I earned some local art awards and recognition in some juried shows.  I loved the work, I loved my art, and in hind sight while the life of an emerging artist is not easy, I now know it was a beautiful life. Between the constant drive to create, the pull away from life’s conventional paths to the path of the artist can be frustrating and frightening.  Those years were growing years, and then I faced life altering events two days apart in 1992.

The first event was the death of my mother.  Life altering for anyone it is also part of the cycle of life.  The second event?  Two days after my mother died I woke up blind.  I didn’t see that coming, pardon the pun.  I had managed glaucoma in my eyes for years.  Maybe it was the stress of my mom’s death or the future.  Among the whirlwind of activities, emotions, and decisions I remember thinking my art and work were over.  I could not fathom how to paint or draw if I could not see the subject, or the canvass for that matter, and besides it was not interesting or fun.  I could not see the expression I wanted to create.  I may have lost some interest, not in or about art, in my creating art.  I had to pursue learning how to live as a blind man.  I left New York and my previous life behind me.  I have no images of my earlier art work as I frankly had no use for them.  I went to blindness rehabilitation in California.  I was able to teach art at the Braille Institute of Los Angeles.

In 1996 I moved to be near friends in Cleveland Ohio.  In 1999 I attended an event at The Sculpture Center of Cleveland with Cleveland Sight Center and some other people who were blind.  The exhibit was of interest because it was billed as “hands on” exhibit for people with low vision and blindness.  The artist was there and while examining the sculptures through touch and speaking with the others in attendance I had an epiphany.  I could express and create through sculpture.  I had stopped creating art because of my loss of vision, but I also had the sense of touch, and smell, and perspective, and talented hands.  I had stopped drawing because I could not see the work, but these pieces at The Sculpture Center enabled me to feel the work and therefore “see” it.

I enrolled in The Cleveland Institute of Art and met a wonderful teacher and mentor.  I began to create in clay and eventually stone.  I started as an immature novice.  I had to rely on others to guide and teach me.  Not to help me with the creativity, just the execution.  I was learning that I was not a ‘blind artist’, I was an artist who was blind.  My life became full of people who offered help and support and encouragement as I learned new skills and techniques.

Before becoming blind, my art was visual, but having lost my sight and the artistic language that I had developed, I still needed to express myself through art.  The art I do now is a transformation of my knowledge and abilities through a tactile medium.

Making art puts me in a state of mind where my disability is not an issue.  Even though I’m considered disabled, I’m still an artist.  Blindness has caused me to change my medium and techniques from drawing, printmaking, and painting to sculpting stone, working in clay and bronze – from a visual medium to one that uses tactility and form for expression.

My sculpture has moved from a symbolic essence of the people I know and love and the energy I experience from life to becoming closer with the creator and my relationship with the spiritual realm.  When creating I consider the elements, movement, sounds (both music and every day sounds), which are always moving and growing.

My life and art is a unity of purpose, spirit, and the moment transcending limitations and academic rule by the grace of the creator and my ancestors.  I’ve always been an artist since day one.  I didn’t let a disability interfere with my life’s calling.  I’m determined to continue in making art because it is my purpose in life.

Since pursuing this new career I have won several juried awards including Very Special Arts Ohio Accessible Expressions – Professional Artist category, The American Printing House for the Blind (Louisville, KY) Insight Award for Sculpture – Professional Artist Category in 2007 and again in 2009, Ohio Arts Council Award and the Ohio Arts Council Award for Excellence.  My work has also toured Ohio with Very Special Arts Ohio.  My work has been recognized frequently in local media, and in February 2010 I was featured in African American Art Museum magazine published by Hampton University.  This is all very humbling, and I am grateful for the interest people show in my work.

For me who go for you who stay

For Me Who Go or For You Who Stay

For Me Who Who Go For You Who Stay - Limestone

For Me Who Go or For You Who Stay

limestone

KBB limestone

limestone

Once Darkness - Tiger Eye Alabaster

Once Darkness

tiger eye alabaster

Sheath 2

Sheath

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