Friday, November 8, 2013

David Kontra: Blind Missouri Artist

By the Sea
acrylic on canvas
A new exhibition is now on display across from US Bank in the MU Student Center featuring the vivid and expressive paintings of David Kontra. Originally from Ohio, Kontra lives and works in rural south-central Missouri in the small town of Norwood. Kontra is legally blind. He was diagnosed with a rare degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa when he was still a child and began drawing as a way to cope with depression. Retinitis pigmentosa is a condition that gradually causes people to lose their sight. Suffers must contend with severe tunnel vision, nystagmus (involuntary rapid eye movements), blind spots, and the eventuality of going completely blind. Today, Kontra retains less than five percent of his vision in his left eye, and his right eye can only perceive changes in light. The artist describes it as, “like looking through a straw with my left eye only.” As a result, the artist is unable to view his paintings in their entirety and he must therefore rely upon his memory in the creation of his works.
image from "Kontra Vision" by McEowen
Image from "Kontra Vision" by Bob McEowen
When he paints, he wears a special high magnification lens to enhance the vision of his left eye, and as he works with his face merely inches from the canvas he memorizes every brush stroke, creating a mental map of the composition. Due to the limitations of his condition, the artist sometimes takes months to complete a painting depending upon the intricacies of the subject he is depicting. Kontra utilized this intensive process in By the Sea to render a dream-like landscape where civilization and nature converge in a riot of color.
By the Sea, detail
Lacking any formal artistic training, David Kontra is an outsider artist who only began painting in 2001. Because of his expressive use of color, abstracted forms, and gestural brushstrokes, Kontra’s paintings are often compared to works by the German Expressionists of the early twentieth-century, such as Oskar Kokoschka and Emil Nolde.
acrylic on canvas
In Rainfall Kontra creates a dynamic composition that showcases the gestural quality of his brushstrokes. The white paint, representing rain, rhythmically dances across the vibrant abstracted landscape that depicts a pond and a house in the distance. In addition, the rhythmic quality of his brushstrokes produces an aural effect that evokes the sound of rain.
Rainfall, detail
Kontra often paints as a means of releasing his frustration with politics and the world around him, especially ignorance and discrimination towards people with disabilities. Kontra, who is himself legally blind, is an advocate for inclusivity and accessibility of the arts for people with visual impairments.
If society is to advance into the future bringing true equality, it must finally acknowledge the disabled. For the disabled are really not as such.  They are the ‘Able.’ Even though they may not see, hear, speak, or move as well, they can certainly think and function whilst social barriers are placed before them.  The disabled must surmount complex challenges regarding transportation, mobility, education, employment opportunities, poverty, ridicule, depression and ostracization, which proves that the disabled are not second class citizens but first class survivors.  Because they must endure these obstructions that an arrogant, apathetic society allows, their dynamism confirms that they are the proper proprietors of social egalitarianism.
 – David Kontra
If you're interested in purchasing your very own original David Kontra painting, check out the Saatchi Online Gallery.
Authored by Sarah Horne, PhD Student in Art History and Archaeology