Drawing blindfolded is an exercise often presented to drawing students but it is difficult to find artists who have integrated this into their creative practice.
Claude Heath has produced series of drawings in this way, in particular Drawing 188, 1996, which are presented as examples in Maslen and Southern’s Drawing Projects. Heath wanted to draw “without being compromised by anything…already known” (Maslen and Southern, 2011). It is all to easy to draw what you think you see rather than what you see, so Heath took the seeing out of the equation completely. Staff, in his essay on Heath’s work, likens this to the automatic drawing practised by the Surrealists (Guerin, 2015). However, they were attempting to tap into their subconscious and to avoid the conventions of representational art. Heath was seeking a truer representation by eschewing preconceptions which might lead to a poorer interpretation. He developed this approach into drawing whilst looking at the object but not the drawing, and finally by using his eyes to explore the object whilst drawing unsighted, simultaneously with both hands. A blob of bluetack is used as a tactile reference point within the drawing. This has produced drawings densely populated with lines with a small blank ‘navel’ where the bluetack was and from which the lines radiate.
In 2010, Heath was invited to explore through drawing, a range of archaeological finds in Magura, Romania. He drew unsighted and by touch because, “when drawing unsighted these surfaces seem to be inscribed with tantalising but inconclusive clues as to the meaning of these things” (Interventions chapter 09 tactile drawings, 2011). Rather than draw blindfold, he set up an arrangement where the object (of which he had no prior knowledge or sight) and the drawing support where behind a curtain through which he could use his hands. He decided to drawn each object using the object itself via abrasion, cutting or indenting the support. The resulting images are rather like ghosts of the object.
Another artist who explored unsighted drawing extensively was the American Jules Olitski. Now remembered as a colour field artist, he produced ethereal works using a spray gun. As an art student, he described himself as a very competent drawer but he asked himself “I know how to draw what I see, but do I know how to look within?” (Distler, no date). Working blind liberated him from received art conventions and he talked eloquently of the value of the process.
“In 1949… I painted blindfolded for I don’t know how many months – in any case until I felt strong enough in myself that I could allow the work to take its course; to develop in time, I hoped, into good works of art. Through an odd, unanticipated route I had found my way into flat, bright, colored abstract painting. At a stroke, the devises and techniques I had learned in the art schools were gone, as if I’d never gone to school.
… Though the “blindfold” paintings were not truly realized works of art, they were, I believe, my first true works. They had come out of play, and to me, at least, they looked alive. The kind of play I mean is serious play, inspired play, where imagination, intelligence, intuition and experience all come together and at once reconstruct a reality into a vision… of order and harmony.” (Olitski in the 21st century, 1985)
I find his definition of ‘play’ within art practice particularly insightful.
Jon Tsoi, a Chinese-American artist, uses blind painting as an expression of “universal life energy” (Jon Tsoi artist, no date) and describes it as a form of Chinese medicine (though it is not clear who the patient is). This video shows his process which involves an initial group meditation followed by cutting canvases and treading them with rope after which the audience ritualistically pours paint over the stacked canvases. This seems altogether less convincing and more gimmicky performance art than the thoughtful approach of Olitski. The garb of combat gear and helmet undermines any serious, religious or medicinal intent and the art produced offers little insight.