Wesley Seah, 54, may have lost his sight, but he’s gained a vision through art.
Before 2002, Wesley, then 35, was a normal-sighted person. Then a rare condition of glaucoma hit and his sight started deteriorating. Forced to shut down his head-hunting business, Wesley endured five years of unemployment before finding a job where he managed to do clerical work by enlarging fonts on the computer. Since 2009, he has been working in the public sector. In 2016, he was exposed to Chinese ink calligraphy.
Understanding Wesley’s Visual Impairment
Wesley is currently completely blind in one eye and only has limited vision in one quadrant of the other eye. “At the rate it’s going, I won’t be surprised that my vision will be totally gone.”
Wesley can still see some colour. However, he finds it difficult to differentiate between similar colours when they are beside each other, for example, orange next to red or blue next to purple.
A Beacon of Positivity
In spite of all the challenges, Wesley carries an infectious, jovial attitude towards life.
“Everybody has their own inspiration within themselves, it’s just that we do not see it or we dare not say it… if you want to start something new for yourself, consider something unseen, something that is unseen but actually within you.”
Continue reading for insights into Wesley’s art and triumphant journey!
Visit Wesley’s store on Fairmarch here.
How did you start painting and what were some of the struggles you faced?
Wesley: I have no background in painting. I got F9 in primary school for art! But the founder of my current place of employment, which hires blind people, organised classes in photography, Chinese calligraphy etc. to challenge us. It was tough at first, but it became increasingly interesting.
I was drawn to Chinese calligraphy because I found it was easier to express myself with a brush in fluid form than in other media. At the beginning, I would practise from 4-6am then go to work. Even the single word “心” (xin means heart) required a thousand times of practise before something strange looked legible.
We were also used to verbal instructions while most instructors, Ms Pin Lay at that time, are used to visually demonstrating painting techniques. Pin Lay had to adapt, but eventually we got it to work.
Once, when I was doing a live demo at a booth, a person stood staring at me for quite a while. When my sighted helper told me, I responded, “Maybe I’m handsome lor!”. The person then came up to me and said, “With one eye you can still see a little bit right? I don’t see anything special about you.” I replied nicely, “Yeah that’s true. But with two eyes your view is perfect. If you close one eye, you will notice there’s a distance error and you might lose confidence. Perhaps you can try and then tell me how I can improve myself?”
Interviewer: Did that hurt you?
Wesley: It didn’t because I used to be a sighted person, I had already endured a lot of hurting. And who knows, I might have something to learn from others!
What does painting mean to you?
Wesley: It means a lot. It’s a way of expressing myself. It helps people see that a person can be an artist whether or not they have a disability.
I’m also so grateful for people who influenced my journey. Mrs Choo Cheh Hoon, the founder of the place I work at now, was the one who challenged my mindset about what I can do. Ms Pin Lay helped me realise that brush strokes themselves are a form of expression. Mr Lim Choon Jin, my instructor at Lasalle, helped me touch up on technique. He told me that since I may not eventually do ‘perfect’ painting, I could go into abstract painting. So that’s where I began my semi-abstract style in Chinese ink. I worked in shades of grey then began experimenting with different media. Ms Yoko at Very Special Arts (VSA) is the reason why I dare to use colour. In particular, Mr Lim and Ms Yoko taught me the importance of understanding properties of the paint and the paper. They helped me look at art as a form of ‘chemistry’.
How would you describe your art?
Wesley: My art is not traditional. It took a while for people to accept it but I’m happy they do now. It expresses how I think things can be looked at differently. For example, the word “福” (fu means blessed), is typically written with certain strokes*, but I approached it differently and rounded it because I think of “福满人间” (fu man ren jian means good fortune filling earth) and 圆满 (yuan man means successful)**.
(*Typically, there is a specific order of strokes to follow when writing Chinese characters.
**The first word in the phrase “福满人间” (fu man ren jian means fortune filling the earth) is the same as ‘fu’, the subject of the piece Wesley is discussing. The second word in the phrase “圆满” (yuan man means successful), is the same as the second word in “fu man ren jian”, meaning full. The word “圆 (‘yuan’)” itself means round. This is the train of association that Wesley is likely to be referring to.)
Can you talk more about your single word pieces and Unseen Inspirations?
Wesley: I use single words because of my limitation! It’s very difficult for me to write two words in a straight line. Combining multiple strokes also helps. For example, the right hand side of ‘fu’, the part that looks a bit like a person with a graduation hat and a rounded gown, that’s a continuous stroke. Some buyers commission multiple pieces to form a sentence or a verse.
As for Unseen Inspirations, those were done with the help of masking tape. Since tape has a different texture from the canvas, it provides something tactile to guide me. Actually, I don’t know what colours I used. I just picked a colour and then added varying degrees of white!
What aspect about painting do you find the most fun and what is your favourite painting?
Wesley: The most fun is how you can start with ‘A’ and end up with ‘B’! I can never get what I want yet sometimes paintings end up quite stunning. That’s when I try to recall my steps to discover a new technique of painting.
I have two big paintings that I love, but they are not for sale. They are both framed and very heavy.
One was originally called Angel Fish. It is a simple painting but a lot of people like it because they can sense the state of mind I was in when I was painting it. They point out that the fish looks very happy, so I renamed it Happy Angel.
Do you have any tips for other visually impaired persons who want to get into painting or other art forms?
Wesley: Whatever people say, take it. Only you yourself will know whether it’s right or wrong. Don’t say openly whether something is wrong or cannot be done. If your mind is not receptive to new ideas, how can we innovate and be creative as an artist?
Artist block happens when you’re afraid of what people think. Dare to try things out. I put my art out first, receive people’s feedback and criticism, then decide if it’s something to abandon or carry on. Nobody buy just take it down lah!
Finally, what's next for you?
Wesley: Planning for retirement at 65! I hope to paint full time and find a gallery that is willing to put up my artwork for sale.
Click here to browse and purchase Wesley’s work. Reach out to Wesley by clicking ‘inquiry’ on the top right to enquire about commissioned work.
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Read more about other visually impaired artists from around the world here: https://www.everydaysight.com/blind-painters/
Written by Sheena Hong