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Meet the proud blind man who overcame homelessness to live his dream as a renowned artist

Blind visual artist Clarke Reynolds is telling his unique life story through a mix of classic video games and braille in a new exhibition

A man with chronic sight loss is telling the remarkable story of how he beat homelessness and became a visual artist through braille art in his new exhibition.

Clarke Reynolds’ solo exhibition 5° of Vision uses classic video games of the 80s like Pac-ManTetris and Space Invaders alongside braille to give viewers an insight into his life and what it’s like to be visually impaired.

The exhibition is a milestone for Reynolds, who has degenerative eye condition retinis pigmentosa. The 42-year-old and his family were made homeless seven years ago and his vision continues to worsen year by year, but he has not let it stop him achieving his artist dream.

“As a visually impaired person it feels like my life is like an arcade game – if I survive a day without getting run over, or Donkey Kong chucking a barrel at me, I’ve survived,” said Reynolds.

“The idea is that I’m a child of the 80s and I’ve used those icons of arcades, we’ve got Pac-Man and the Pac-Man ghosts, Space Invaders and Tetris and entwined in those visuals, because I’m a visual artist, is stories about my life but in braille.

“I love creating art and I don’t want to stop creating and pushing the boundaries of what visual artists like myself can do and what it can be for the visually impaired community.”

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Clarke Reynolds blind braille artist
Reynolds’ braille artwork echoes video games of days gone by like Pac-Man. Image: Supplied

Losing his sight is not the only adversity Reynolds has faced in his lifelong bid to become a renowned visual artist.

Homelessness has also had a huge impact on both his and his family’s life.

“I was made homeless with my daughter and my partner seven years ago and my brother died while homeless. He died on a street corner in Newquay at the age of 35, which was six years ago in April,” said.

“The landlord sold the property right from underneath us when it was coming up to Christmas and I had just been diagnosed with sight loss. We were literally just staying in my mum’s one-bedroom flat with a double bed for the three of us.

Clarke Reynolds blind braille artist
Exhibition visitors will be able to wear glasses that simulate sight loss while viewing Reynolds’ work. Image: Supplied

“Of course, the experience has stayed with me. It’s the hardest thing to do. You don’t want to end up without a roof over your head.”

Now, Reynolds is inspired to showcase the potential people with sight loss have to contribute to creative industries in Britain as well as around the world.

Clarke Reynolds blind braille artist
Reynolds hopes his work will pave the way for others with sight loss to work in creative industries. Image: Supplied

Following his London exhibition, Reynolds will be heading to the US with an exhibition in Wichita where he plans to show an art piece that riffs on Scrabble to let sighted and non-sighted players face off.

He also plans to campaign to get braille, which turns 200 this year, taught on the national curriculum as well as boosting the opportunities for people living with sight loss.

Clarke Reynolds blind braille artist
Reynolds believes braille should be taught in mainstream schools to make society more inclusive. Image: Supplied

“I’ve done art for such a long time and I’ve always wanted from the age of six to be a professional artist. To be that main headline act like a Damien Hirst or a Tracey Emin,” said Reynolds.

“But now it feels like I’ve got more purpose. It’s opened up so many doors and I’m raising awareness all around the country. I want to inspire the next generation of visually impaired people to become artist. Why can’t they work in the creative industries? The stigma attached to sight loss in the creative industry is huge.

“I’m proud to be blind but the idea of having that stigma attached to you just automatically leaves people saying, ‘I feel sorry for you’. I don’t want that, I work hard for 70 hours a week, I enjoy what I do. It’s never been my hobby, why should it be my hobby now I’ve lost my sight?”

5° OF VISION will be running at Grove Gallery from 15 February-15 March. Details here.

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