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Artist continues painting, despite vision loss

Lawrence Harrison's works on display at Harmony Hall

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Photo by Wanda Jackson. In his work “Double Vision,” artist Lawrence Harrison acknowledges his own vision loss.

Photo by Wanda Jackson. In his work “Double Vision,” artist Lawrence Harrison acknowledges his own vision loss.

Published on: Wednesday, February 27, 2013

By Wanda Jackson

It is well known that such famous artists as Monet, Degas, Rembrandt and Georgia O’Keefe all reached their heights of artistic vision while facing a decline in their vision.

Monet described how he was forced to memorize where the colors were placed on his palette.

“Reds had begun to look muddy,” he wrote. “My painting was getting more and more darkened.”

Often he relied on the labels on the tubes of paint rather than his own vision.

Understanding the challenges that these artists faced despite their disabilities “takes courage and strength,” says Washington, D.C., artist Lawrence Harrison, who despite being diagnosed with an advanced case of glaucoma continues painting.

For any artist experiencing vision loss, said Harrison, the biggest challenge is an inability to see “details and contrasts” — perhaps two of an artist’s most important skills.

Harrison began “painting as a child, and as an adult, served as a photographer in the U.S. Navy.” Today, Harrison uses low-vision magnifiers to paint. He is unable to paint as quickly and with the amount of detail that he once did.

However, Harrison’s realistic oils are detailed, colorful and lively.

With oils, he said that he has time to “blend colors and make changes.”

He paints landscapes, portraits and still lifes from photographs.

“I try to photograph and look at every detail,” said Harrison, “then try to paint every detail I see in the photograph and make it look as real as possible.”

Harrison’s works are on display through March 16 at the Harmony Hall Regional Center in Fort Washington.

In “Double Vision,” he depicts two very large eyes. What is especially striking about this work is its level of detail. Big brown eyes with raised eyebrows and dark black pupils gaze back at the viewer. The painting is Harrison’s way of acknowledging that he is legally blind.

In “Cabin Lake,” the artist’s careful observation combined with his artistry leads the viewer to a wonderful, fun-filled evening on the lake. Harrison’s compositional depth is revealed in the contrasts of shadows against the vast, soft atmosphere of water and sky.

After experiencing vision loss nearly 10 years ago, Harrison said that he looked for low vision rehabilitation and adaptive technology services training that would allow him to travel safely, take care of his home, enjoy leisure activities and lead an independent lifestyle.

His vision loss, said Harrison, has given him the “courage and strength to continue painting and to serve as example to other people that are experiencing vision loss.”

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