Saturday, February 09, 2008

Art for the visually impaired

It was just about five years ago that Elizabeth Arseneau began creating artwork as a means of therapy for herself, and already she's helping others with it.Arseneau said that when she dove into the world of art, she had no intent other than to pick up a hobby that just made her feel good inside while coping with a series of life-altering changes. But the rewards have gone much farther.
"My epiphany took place in 2003 when I picked up my first paintbrush," she said. "I discovered the key to my soul through my art. Painting my way through the challenges of life has opened many doors and has taken me from merely existing to living life to its fullest."

Forging full steam ahead in her new-found hobby, Arseneau received an award of merit in the Attleboro Arts Museum's 2005 Members Show and was selected as one of the exhibiting artists in the museum's 2006 Eight Visions Exhibit.To date, Arseneau has created more than 60 paintings in her home studio, based on a theme of emotions ranging from rage and depression to peace and happiness.She says her most rewarding work, however, is her latest exhibit, titled "Art You Can Feel," which was recently exhibited at the TseTse Art Gallery in Providence. The exhibit consisted of 12 paintings created specifically with the visually impaired in mind.

Arseneau used various textures and depths to give the visually impaired a better idea what is on her canvas. The exhibit also included five sculptures that could hold to feel various shapes and textures.Born herself with a sight impairment that affects her depth perception and overall vision, Arseneau said creating art that the visually impaired can appreciate is extremely rewarding.According to Therese Lavalle, executive director of the TseTse Art Gallery, Arseneau is a "master in her own right, having created an art form that is truly unique and skillfully implemented."

"Elizabeth shares her art with all the people," Lavalle said. "As non-artists share through conversation, she shares herself and her art through sight and touch. Allowing the viewer to touch her tactile art allows the viewer-feeler to be connected to that art on their own level of appreciation."One of the ways Arseneau creates artwork for the visually impaired is through the use of various layers of paint and special techniques, as she did with a painting she calls "Sea of Defiance."

The painting depicts a woman with sea creatures flowing through a mass of long, wild hair. Arseneau says she named it after her own defiance in the use of the paints she applied."It was done with different epoxies, and, if on the directions it said 'Do not use with acrylic or oil,' I would," she said. "And what happened is it started to bubble and the bubbles hardened, and what I did was looked at the shapes that were bubbling and then enhanced them with paint and that's how I got the effects."Even in simpler paintings, however, Arseneau says her artwork can be appreciated by the visually imparied through more subtle textures and depths, as in "The Dance."

The painting depicts a smooth, black and white face with dancing bodies almost secretly painted into very long and colorful textured hair of green, black, orange and yellow."Blind people have very sensitive fingers, and even though this looks very flat, to somebody without vision, they're seeing with their fingertips," she said of the painting.Janette Sears can be reached by phone or fax at 508-222-2442 or by e-mail at

The Women at Work Museum on Country Street in downtown Attleboro is currently showing some of Elizabeth Arseneau's work, including pieces intended for the visually impaired, in an exhibit titled "Past, Present and Future."


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