It took me four months to build up the plaster work on the tactile painting of the Mary Rose ship, often using the tiniest brushes normally used to paint miniatures. Prior to painting, the white plaster relief work of the ship was almost ghostly. I must admit I rather liked it, if it had been my own painting, I might have been tempted to keep it that way. The ghost of the Mary Rose.
I contacted Mary Kinoulty, who was Head of Learning at the Mary Rose Museum and we fixed a date for her, Charlie the blind volunteer and his wife June to visit the studio.
On the day of their visit, I welcomed them into the studio, sat Charlie in front of the painting, then guided his hands to the edges and told him he was free to feel the work. We all stood quietly and within minutes Charlie told us he could feel the ship, the tender, rigging, mask, cannon, flags and rigging even small rope ladders. In fact he told us everything that was on the painting. In some parts I had worked in incredible small detail and he could feel all of it. Fantastic.
The room was so emotionally charged we were all moved to tears. June turned to me and said ” Do you realise what you have done?”. I could not find the words to answer, I just nodded and smiled and thought to myself, if ever I needed a sign to show me I should continue doing this work, I had just been given it. That day will say with me forever.
Never before nor since have I ever felt so overwhelmed by any reaction to my work. Maybe because it felt a special commission, or that the work was so detailed. All I know is that I had given Charlie a painting to touch but he had given me so much more.
That day, more than any other, I had experienced a moment of such pure clarity. I knew that I had chosen the right path by making paintings that are meant to be touched. No-one would be excluded from my exhibitions, no-one would be excluded from sharing a studio experience and no-one would feel left out and sad because they could not share the art experience because they were visually impaired.