Bandleader, art teacher and artist Patrick Roberts said, “Glaucoma is living with me. I am not living with glaucoma," refusing to allow the eye disease to have power over him.
He has documented what living with the disease for the past 13 years has been like in his latest exhibition, The Windows – a Conversation with Glaucoma.
It runs from December 2-4 the Old Fire Brigade Station, corner Hart and Abercromby Streets, Port of Spain, with speeches on the opening evening from experts like ophthalmologist Dr Debra Bartholomew. There will also be a buyers’ preview on that evening from 1-4 pm.
Living with the disease has resulted in his losing depth perception.
“When I walk I have to be very careful where I put my feet, because everything just looks flat,” he explained.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology defines depth perception as the ability to see things in three dimensions (including length, width and depth) and to judge how far away an object is.
Bartholomew, Roberts’s ophthalmologist, is “confused and amazed” he can still paint. Roberts has lost sight in his right eye and has limited sight in his left.
Painting, now, for him, is a more a walk of faith rather than one of sight. That is why one of 24 paintings being exhibited is called Walking by Faith.
Roberts said, “One sees with the brain and not the physical eye, I have been told, and that is true in many ways. However, we have learnt to first see with the eyes, and loss of that faculty is frightening, especially for me, a visual artist.
“Now that I am relearning, retooling, retraining and really seeing through the window of the window, every sunrise, sunset and everything in between is even more breathtaking.”
The memory of what it was like to have first met someone, to see something for the first time or to touch it is now how he paints.
“When you go to paint, the first thing is an attraction. Something would have attracted you to this site, spot, house, or person," he said.
Roberts said one of the things he tries to do is to remember that first attraction and bring it to his canvas.
“When you start losing one faculty, you gain others. So my feet, now, are so much more sensitive to where I walk,” Roberts said.
He added he looks more now than he even looked before.
“Shadows and thing are very interesting to me now. So a lot of the work treats with shadow and shade and light and dark.”
For this exhibition he began by darkening paper, using different colours. He uses soft artist pastels and those are placed on a dark acrylic wash on Arches water-colour paper and windows are the subjects of all 25 paintings.
He would then put lighter colours on that darkened background.
For this exhibition, Roberts chose 24 of 46 paintings, and hopes to do a book with all 46 next year.
While the exhibition is a form of therapy for Roberts, he also aims for it to help the Holy Trinity Cathedral. He has worked closely with the church’s 200th-anniversary committee and curated its exhibition, Mama: An Exhibition of Art of the Cathedral. That ran from November 5-10 in Port of Spain and from November 14-18 in Tobago. Seven of the unsold paintings from that exhibition will also be on display in The Windows.
Funds from The Windows will be donated to the church, once it is successful and all the money from a piece called Stained Glass Reflection will also be given to the church, once sold.
But his ultimate goal is to save someone’s sight.
Glaucoma.org says there are currently about 80 million people worldwide with the disease, whose prevalence was increasing partly because of a rapidly ageing population.
He hopes the exhibition paints a comprehensive story of why eye health is important, that he could raise awareness of the rising global incidence of myopia (short-sightedness), particularly in children, which would encourage parents and guardians to send children outside to play and away from their screens.
But, more importantly, he called on people to have their eyes tested.