While art has always been a major part of John Bramblitt’s life, it wasn’t until he completely lost his sight that he tried to paint for the first time. From the age of 11, Bramblitt’s vision was gradually stolen from him by epilepsy. By the time he was 30, seizures had rendered him completely blind, sending him into what he calls “the deepest, darkest hole” of depression. “All of the hopes and dreams that I had for my life; all of the plans for what I would do after I graduated school were gone. I was not only depressed, but in mourning. The life that I had, along with the future that I was planning, was dead and gone,” he says. “I felt like I had no potential; that basically I was a zero.”
It was then, at the lowest point of his life, that Bramblitt resolved to get colors back in his life. A year after he became fully blind, he attempted to learn how to draw without sight by using a kind of fabric paint with raised edges. And although he says his first successful drawing was misshapen and clumsy, the fact that he could connect lines and curves to form a picture left him with hope as bright as a ray of sunlight shining on a dark world.
Since then, the Denton, Texas-based artist has created a number of stunning vivid, dynamic paintings that burst with color and texture. After he forms a picture in his mind, he uses fabric paint to produce outlines that can be felt with his fingers. He discovered that different hues of oil paints don’t feel the same in his hands—white, for example, is thick like toothpaste, while black is runnier. Knowing this, he can mix whatever shades he needs for his artwork. Meanwhile, braille on the tubes of paint help him identify the individual colors.
For more than a decade now, the inspirational artist has received several honors and been the subject of much media attention for his gorgeous paintings created in spite of his so-called handicap. “In a way, I am glad that I became blind,” Bramblitt says. “This makes more sense when you stop thinking about adversity as an obstacle, and start viewing it as an experience—something that you can learn from and grow from.”
John Bramblitt is a painter. He is also blind. He is also a genius. Producer: Stephen Menick. Editor: Scott Newman. Cameras: Nigel McGregor, Borden McKinnon. Sound editor: Julio Gonzalez. Originally produced for AARP’s “My Generation” on PBS.