Monday, 31 August 2015

13 Members of BVUK

Blind artist who will never see his painting to display special work at Westminster Abbey Service to mark military charity’s centenary

A blind artist who says he owes his life to Blind Veterans UK has produced a special painting to thank and mark the centenary of the charity.

Matt Rhodes with his version of Gassed alongside the original in IWM London Low Res
Matthew Rhodes, 40 and from Preston, has painted a modern version of the iconic John Singer Sargent painting “Gassed”. The original, now hanging in IWM London, depicts a line of wounded soldiers walking towards a dressing station following a mustard gas attack in the First World War.

Matt’s version shows 13 veterans currently supported by the charity set in a composition that mirrors the original, with the veterans walking with their arm on the shoulder of the person in front. The veterans featured range in age from 25 to 99 and have fought in conflicts including the Second World War, Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan. It also includes the artist himself.

This week (23/09), Matt was invited to display his painting alongside the original at IWM London before it plays an important role in the Blind Veterans UK Service of Thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey next month (06/10). 

Matt spent almost 100 hours working on the artwork at the Blind Veterans UK Llandudno centre last month, using a technique that he first developed with one of the charity’s art and craft instructorseight years ago. 

He has gone on to paint hundreds of pictures and says that the art has given him “a new lease of life”.

Matt joined the army in 1993 serving with the 1st Battalion, Devonshire and Dorset regiment in Canada, Germany and Bosnia and, in 1995, tragically lost his sight after a motorcycle accident left him with a traumatic brain injury as well as paralysis down the right side of his body.

Matt’s paralysis has also meant that right-handed Matt has had to learn to paint with his weaker left hand as well as with his sight loss and, due to the nature of his sight loss, he will never be able to see his creation in its entirety even though it is completed.

Matt says: “I have half tunnel vision so when I’m working I can only see small sections of the painting like a head or an arm. I have to work my way around doing each bit on its own. It does mean that I can never see the whole finished work.” 
Matt Rhodes and Nick Caplin Outside IWM Low Res
Matt has been supported by Blind Veterans UK since 1996 and, as well as having art training, has also received equipment and training to allow him to continue to live independently at home.

He says: “I owe Blind Veterans UK so much. That is why I’m so pleased to be able to share this painting and honour the centenary of the charity.

“I would never have believed when I lost my sight that I would be able to paint but Blind Veterans UK show you what you can do rather than what you can’t. I paint almost every day now and I have Blind Veterans UK to thank for that.”
IWM London invited Matt to display his painting alongside the John Singer-Sargent original this week.

Will Fowlis, Visitor and Customer Engagement Team Leader, IWM London said: “It is fantastic to see how this painting, one of the most important works in IWM’s art collection, continues to inspire people today.

“It was an honour to welcome Matt to the museum today with his modern interpretation of this painting and to view it alongside the original. We wish Matt and Blind Veterans UK all the best with this project moving forward.”

Blind Veterans UK (formerly St Dunstan’s) was founded in 1915 and the charity’s initial purpose was to help and support soldiers blinded in World War I. But the organisation has gone on to support more than 35,000 blind veterans and their families, spanning World War II to recent conflicts including Iraq and Afghanistan.

For 100 years, the charity has been providing vital free training, rehabilitation, equipment and emotional support to blind and vision impaired veterans no matter when they served or how they lost their sight.

Chief Executive of Blind Veterans UK, Major General (Rtd) Nick Caplin CB, said: “Matt’s achievement is fantastic. It’s brilliant to see the passion he has for his art and we are very proud that this painting celebrates the work of the charity in this, our centenary year.

“The Sargent original hanging in the Imperial War Museum is an iconic image of the First World War and it was from those fields that the first veterans the charity supported, emerged 100 years ago.

“Matt’s version captures the journey that our veterans undertake and brilliantly demonstrates the breadth of people we support. In the past year, more blind veterans have registered for our help than ever before in the charity’s history so even more veterans will be able to take this journey and discover a life beyond sight loss.”