An artist who sees on his own terms
Detroit artist Brendan Patrick lost his vision, and nearly his life, to cystic fibrosis. Now he's making the most of the time he's been given by creating art and raising awareness of his disease.
At first glance, Brendan Patrick’s studio looks like any artist's studio. It’s full of paints, supplies, and canvases filled with bright colors. But look a little closer, and you’ll see everything is labeled in braille. Brendan is banging a jar of red paint against his desk to get the lid open. He’s wearing paint splattered overalls and dark sunglasses.
He’s showing us his technique: “I dip my paintbrush in some paint. And I just kind of follow the line with my left hand while the brush is in my right hand. And, the key is, hopefully I stay in the lines. We’ll see if that happens. Well, you guys will see if that happens,” Brendan says, laughing.
Brendan lost his vision a decade ago. Before that, he was a tattoo artist. And in his free time he learned to play the guitar and started a band. All while living with a serious illness: cystic fibrosis.
Cystic fibrosis causes progressive damage to the lungs. Brendan was in the hospital repeatedly. By the time he was twenty-six, it seemed like his time was up. In 2008, he spent five months in intensive care waiting for a lung transplant.
“While I was on my ventilator, all I was doing was painting. Twenty-four seven, I probably painted maybe a hundred paintings. I was in the ICU, in my own private room, and it looked like an art gallery,” Brendan says.
Brendan’s lung transplant was a success. But he had a rare complication. He lost his vision.
Rob Cousineau is a longtime friend of Brendan’s, and he’s filming a documentary about him. He remembers the aftermath of Brendan’s devastating loss.
Cousineau says, “Brendan has all of this time now gifted to him with this new lung transplant and he can’t see, so he has nothing to do with the time he has left.”
Brendan’s friends and family stood by helplessly as he spiraled into depression. This went on for about two years. Then a friend suggested he use puffy paint to outline his designs. And that got him painting again.
Something really interesting happened to Brendan’s art after he was blind: a new style emerged on the canvas.
“I can create rooms in my brain. I can create images, and I can kind of paint a person’s face that I’ve never seen...If I’m dipping my paintbrush into yellow, I can see the yellow come onto the canvas. I guess seeing in my own terms now," says Brendan.
Ten years later, Brendan’s style is basically the same as it was before he was blind. It’s full of bright colors and characters from horror and science fiction. But there’s something different about it now. Like you’re seeing directly into Brendan’s mind. And people love it.
“Some of the stuff he does, it’s ridiculous how good it is for the fact that he’s blind, you can see that he’s blind. The stuff all just works.”
That’s another artist, Evans Tasiopoulos, at a fundraiser for cystic fibrosis featuring Brendan’s art. Dozens of artists are painting blindfolded in Detroit’s Tangent gallery, trying to copy Brendan’s process. They’re doing this for the first time, and it’s mostly going hilariously wrong for them.
Tucked away in a corner, Brendan sits on the floor with his paints and canvases. He says he’s painting a fluffy bunny rabbit. It’s grotesque -- and cute. He makes it look easy.
Brendan’s not exactly grateful he lost his vision. But he is having a lot of success because of it.
“It moves some paintings, so that’s positive, right. But, with that being said, my story isn’t really about me dwelling on my misfortunes. It’s about what I’ve done after,” says Brendan.
And what he’s done after is create a tremendous amount of art, and music. Most people think they have plenty of time to accomplish their goals in life. Brendan’s gift is that he has never taken his time for granted.