Blind Ambition

Lisa Fittipaldi never reworks her paintings. She doesn’t second-guess her brush strokes, correct the natural flaws or agonize over whether or not she’s accomplished her vision. She’s never even seen one of her paintings. Fittipaldi is a profoundly blind realist painter.

When she lost her vision at the age of 47, Fittipaldi felt everything she’d ever known fall from under her. Suddenly unable even to walk to the store or turn on a shower faucet, she found herself in world without dimension, perspective or color. When her husband threw down a set of child’s watercolors and challenged her to do something with herself, Fittipaldi was angered at his insensitivity. With quick, furious strokes, she painted a row of repeating jars with colors she couldn’t see and tossed the painting in his direction when she was finished (see Jars). Fittipaldi’s first painting was a small miracle, setting into motion a career no one could have anticipated. In her book, A Brush With Darkness: Learning to Paint After Losing My Sight (Andrews McMeel Publishing), Fittipaldi recounts the story of how she learned to get back up after falling, to put on her socks, to work the microwave, and to put the visions of her mind on canvas.
Katherine Mesch: Why paint, why realism? Lisa Fittipaldi: I wanted to dispel the myths about what it means to be blind. People kept telling me, “You can’t paint a tree or a flower or an abstract painting; you can’t paint a face.” And I kept saying, “Why not?” I found that as I got more confident—learned to put on my socks, and I mean that literally—I wanted to venture out in the world. I found that my painting recaptured the visual world for me, the world I could no longer see.

Anna Poplawska is an artist and art critic. She writes for a number of publications, including Chicago Artists’ News and Wednesday Journal. She lives in Forest Park, Illinois, and can be reached at

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