Catherine Lecce-Chong

White Blindness Series

The Isolation Icons

Lighting

Star LED String

Medium

Acrylic mixed media

Representation

Iconography

Cobalt Blue Virgin, shown

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Artwork

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Cobalt Blue Virgin
Quinacridone Gold Guru
Dioxazine Purple King
Micaceous Iron Oxide W. P. Mankiller
Green Gold Good Shepherd
Transparent Brown Iron Oxide Homeless with Dog and Saint Rose
Quinacridone Crimson Chavez y Huerta
Bone Black and Lylas White - Two Ladies with Lamps
Iridescent Gold Helen Keller

Artist’s Statement

White Blindness

This tactile series is called “White Blindness.” This is a reference to the pain and vision loss when encountering bright light. At this time of social isolation, my reaction was to seek refuge in the great teachers and leaders of history. So I created the “Isolation Icons” as part of the “White Blindness” series.

I chose a large square shape of 36 inches by 36 inches. It’s large enough for a portrait, and I can still hold it in my arms.

The titles of these stretched canvas tactile paintings start with the name of the principal colored paint, and then I match that color with an iconic image. The under paintings are primarily pure saturated color. I use stencils, tape, or string to make simple shapes that are outlined in thick paint, and then use fingers or brushes to help me feel the edges of the image. Then I use collage or textured paint for the images. After that, I follow those colored texture areas with many multiple transparent white glazes. The only pure color is left at the edges or in small details of the canvas’s image. The perspective is flat like old religious icons. I use symbols, letters, words and numbers. Sometimes these are upside down to denote ignorance of information, mystery, or even danger.

Since I am a certified insight meditation teacher, I also embed meditation directions in Braille using transparent plastic sheets.

It is not unusual for me to also use multi-cultural or multi-racial imagery, as that is my experience of life and art.

Ultimately, everyone seeks safety, health and respect. I am doing the same through these paintings. I do them as an act of simplicity, contemplation and even devotion. May others find rest with these paintings.

View Artwork Details

White Blindness Series

Cobalt Blue Virgin

The large, heavy-duty stretched canvas was just the right size for portraits that I could I could hold (actually hug) in my isolation of blindness, and then in the pandemic. This painting started new resources for me personally. She was the beginning of the “Isolation Icons.”

I guess I was looking for that heavenly mother after my last eye surgery. After I painted her a saturated cobalt blue, and added lace to her veil and bottom of her gown, I was having trouble seeing. The bright light I was using made my vision worse. Then I realized that I could truthfully validate the experience of losing vision in bright light. I started painting layer after layer of transparent white paint in the dark. I decided to keep the original colors at the border of the canvas. Of course, this mysterious virgin needed her holy child too.

At the bottom of the gown on the left and right side, you can trace two lambs.

Cobalt Blue Virgin

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White Blindness Series

Quinacridone Gold Guru

A guru is a teacher, but not an ordinary teacher. This is a kind being who introduces you to your true nature and its compassion.

I am grateful to all teachers, that I have ever had. Yes, there is pain, sadness and grief, but one does not need to suffer.

The base layer of color is Quinacridone Gold, and teachers are as precious as gold. I discovered, when using candlelight to paint, the gold layers shimmered, making the 36-inch square canvas painting almost float and expand in size. It made a wonderful experience in the quiet of the studio. I used a cut stencil and a squeeze bottle to draw and redraw the outline of the guru, clothes, and his prayer book. The background is slightly textured by lotus blossoms.

After detecting this cross-legged teacher, your fingers should sense that his clothing is made of patches. Many Buddhist monks used to sew their clothes from patches of cloth donated to them. The guru has a large white halo with a golden rim. There is a protuberance at the top of his head like The Buddha. Around his neck you can discern a necklace, which are his prayer beads. They are made from gold-sequined lace medallions.

On the flat rectangular pages of his prayer book are the titles of western and eastern books in Braille. There is a gold outline around the pages. A few of those titles are: Be Here Now, Peace is in Every Step, Longchen Nyingtik, Trauma Sensitive Mindfulness, Lovingkindness, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Mindfulness in Plain English.

Quinacridone Gold Guru

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White Blindness Series

Dioxazine Purple King

I chose this square because of its association with the earth. Many of our painting pigments are from the earth. In addition, squares feel stable and peaceful to me. It is large enough to do a portrait but small enough to hold in my arms.

The base layer of this painting is a dark purple. I thought it would be a strong regal color for this portrait of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The pure dioxazine purple border has no white layers and is two inches wide. The sides of the canvas are also painted purple, so no frame is added to this painting. You will find many outlined shapes as I leave the changes and corrections in the drawing process. I use thick paint lines, large stencils, and tape to help me create and guide the image or patterns. Paint brush textures are left in the painting as well.

In your first exploration of the surface of the painting, you will find raised lines that delineate the figure of Martin Luther King in the middle of the canvas. His face and hands are a luminous lavender tone. You can feel raised lines for features of the face, including his mustache.  When you feel the upper part of Dr. King’s head, you will feel a halo of pure white around his head and face. The halo also crosses over the dark border at the top of the painting. The pure white of the halo helps to delineate the edges of his pale, lavender face and head. Just above the middle of the painting, his pale, purple hands are crossed over his heart and they hold a clear plastic cross. Scattered downward from his hands are the raised rhinestone letters D, R, E, A, M. The figure ends at the hips.

When you examine the academic robe of Dr. King, which is also a pale purple, you can feel the bottom of the robe flowing out of the painting into the dark border at the bottom. There are three stripes on each upper sleeve that feel rough and pointed and a thick, dark purple border on the front of the gown that matches the border of the painting.

On either side of Dr. King’s head, you will feel two profiles. The one on the right is a profile of Abraham Lincoln with thick hair and beard, in a shade of gray. He has a long nose, which you can feel. The one on the left side is Mahatma Gandhi, colored a shade of tan. You can feel his smooth, bald head, small mustache and his glasses. Both profiles have smaller, pure white halos, which also differentiate their faces from the background. This seemingly three-headed Dr. King is reminiscent of the skillful and compassionate images of Buddha.

Surrounding the figures is a background of white crosses. The bottom third of the background is crowded with clean hard-edged crosses. In the middle third, the crosses are not so exact in angles and they have some space between them. On the upper third of the background, the crosses seem to dissolve into clouds. The background of the painting also contains raised letters and Braille for the word “ dream.” In the lower left corner of the background are the raised numbers 1619, which are presented upside down to acknowledge the lack of knowledge about the first African slaves in our country. The lower right corner of the background has an upside down fabric wing from which tiny red rhinestone tears are falling.

Dioxazine Purple King

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White Blindness Series

Micaceous Iron Oxide W. P. Mankiller

This 36-inch square tactile painting celebrates an extraordinary female chief of the Cherokee nation. I chose the earthy, rough, blackish-grey paint that sparkles with mica particles for this iconic, earthy indigenous leader.

When I choose a subject for a portrait,  I research extensively to get to know them and then to create from my experience.  So Chief Mankiller occupies the middle of the composition. Her large, white halo, filled with seven large yellow stars, extends into the top border of the painting. The large, yellow stars with seven points are on the flag for the Cherokee nation. She appears to be sitting cross-legged in a flowing, pink dress that extends outside the left, right, and bottom borders.

The shoulders, cuffs, and edge of her dress have white stripes. Pink was her favorite color, although I did not find any photos with a true pink dress. It was the color that her family wore at her funeral. Besides the large, white halo around her head, there is another large, white circle in front of her body that is a shield for her nation. The white shield has a yellow and red, seven-pointed star in the middle. And there is a painted wreath of witch hazel surrounding the star. The border of the shield has painted pearls. Her hands are behind the shield holding it upright.

You can detect two rows of large beads around her neck with a third single strand of beads falling all the way down to the bottom of the painting which links her to the earth. She has black hair cut to shoulder length. Her face has a bronze-like shine.

From her mouth tumbles large, sparkly pink, raised words that float to the bottom of her dress. tsa la gi yi A ye hli which means the Cherokee nation. The many glaze layers applied over the painting contain shiny, iridescent, pearl paint for her middle name, Pearl. In the lower right corner you will discover an upside down, seven-pointed, black, iron oxide star with rhinestone tear drops falling downward. The black star is a memory symbol of the Trail of Tears.

The transparent Braille panel on the middle left side reads: Cows run away from the storms while buffalo charge toward it …Whenever I am confronted with a tough challenge, I do not prolong the torment, I become the buffalo.

Micaceous Iron Oxide W. P. Mankiller

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White Blindness Series

Green Gold Good Shepherd

This 36-inch square portrait is based on the good shepherd dome mosaic at the Galla Placidia, Ravenna, Italy. I still have a great love and memory for art history. In this mosaic, the body is seated in a twist: the face is forward, but the upper body is facing left, and the lower body is facing right.

The image takes up more than the middle third of the painting and extends out of the top and bottom of the painting. The twist of the body is accented by two parallel, dark green stripes on the front of the Shepherd’s creamy white gown. There is a light pink cloak piled on his left shoulder that flows behind him and reemerges across his lap. The face looking forward is framed by rough curly black hair. The left arm is raised up and wrapped around his shepherd crook, which is actually a long white cane for the blind.

You can detect the rough handle extending out of the top of the painting. You can also trace the smoothness of the cane and feel a slight raised section of the cane which is a red stripe. This extends out of the bottom of the painting. And the Shepherd has a large white halo with a bright red band around it.

This Good Shepherd holds a small black lamb in his lap and over the right arm which crosses over his body at his waist. You can identify the rough, curly wool of the lamb. The Shepherd also holds in his right hand a black bird with a long neck, the ugly duckling. The lamb and duckling also have white halos. The duckling has a drop of red on its breast. In the background, six wolves tumble through the air with their rough, gray coats.

Braille tumbles through the background, asking questions, “Who am I?”

On right side of the background in the middle third are large raised letters: I AM. The border of the painting is Green Gold.

Green Gold Good Shepherd

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White Blindness Series

Transparent Brown Iron Oxide Homeless with Dog and Saint Rose

This 3 foot square tactile acrylic painting portrays the plight and hope of the homeless in my present hometown, Santa Rosa, California.

Although the underpainting exposed at the 2” borders is a warm dark brown, the successive transparent white glazes over the images make a cooler and foggy atmosphere.

The main figure has rough, darker skin from being outside most of the time. You can feel shaggy hair and beard surrounding the head.

He is wearing a hoody. The homeless person is holding a large 14″ x 15” picture of St. Rose of Lima in front of his body.

His bony fingers are at the 2 upper corners. He is sitting cross legged on the ground. We see his right foot is wearing an army desert boot that is extended out of the lower border of the painting. The homeless must always be ready to move. His boot reminds us that he might be an army veteran.

The picture of St. Rose is a head and shoulder portrait. She has short shaggy black hair surrounded by a bright white halo. Her brown skin is rough from self -mutilation to ruin her beauty. You can touch the hard spikes of the crown of thorns and roses that she wears on her head. The petals of the pink roses float downwards out of the picture to caress the suffering man. Saint Rose wears a brown shirt with a hood also. In her hands she holds a cross, an anchor and a heart for faith, hope and love.

I used my guide dog as a model of kindness and loyalty to comfort the homeless gentleman. She is sitting sideways, in profile, looking at him and is almost as tall as the man. Her color is a dull black. My dog wears a gold collar with a fine chain linked to St. Rose’s anchor.

The man and the dog have large intersecting creamy white halos. Between the man and dog are a few coins on the ground.

There is a yellow scrap of paper floating in the lower left third of the painting. It has tactile words: How Can I Help?

In the upper left corner is a transparent sheet of braille, floating over a cloud. It is a teaching on generosity.

Uncontracted Braille:

What blocks generosity? Is it a belief in scarcity? Contemplate a weed in a sidewalk crack. It is a reminder of life’s energy and abundance. So over and over practice looking at your mind. Notice if you feel small, worried or fearful. S.T.O.P. Ask if it is true or a negative thinking habit. Maybe you will see a patch of blue sky. Then you feel like giving something. But be sure you do it with love. That is true generosity.

36” x 36”acrylic mixed media

Transparent Brown Iron Oxide Homeless with Dog and Saint Rose

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White Blindness Series

Quinacridone Crimson Chavez y Huerta

This 36-inch square tactile acrylic painting has an underpainting of crimson which in full strength can seem the color of blood and when blended with white, it becomes a vivid pink. The dark crimson of the underpainting is only seen at the 2” border of the painting.

The two figures standing very close together in the center of the painting are Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, the peaceful activists of the United Farm Workers Movement. Chavez on the left is dressed in light purple and you can feel his hands folded in prayer.  Chavez gathered his strength from his Catholic faith. He saw his long marches as spiritual pilgrimages.

Huerta, to the right wears a simple light green dress. Her right hand holds a white lotus at her heart and her left hand hangs down with a white feminine symbol of a circle with a cross at the bottom. She actually does not grasp it, because full human rights for women has not been realized yet. She continues to work on behalf of rights for women. Chavez died in 1993.

Working close together, they championed economic, safety and health rights for farm workers, especially in the famous national grape and lettuce boycotts.

Both Chavez and Huerta’s large white halos intersect. Their reddish gold skin with sunburn  glows brightly out of the milky white glazes of the painting. It is the only white blindness portrait where the iconic characters have eyes.

There is also a creamy white haloed profile of Robert Kennedy’s head to the right of Chavez head. Robert was an admirer, supporter and friend to Chavez. And to Huerta’s head to the left is the warm white haloed profile of Ghandi. You can feel his bald head, glasses and mustache. In this painting Chavez and Huerta look multi headed, like Buddhist Bodhisattvas of Compassion.

A light pink 5” high banner floats across both figures about waist level and seems to wrap around them. On it is written in simple large gold letters, “Si, se puede.”  Meaning: Yes, you can. The motto for the farm workers movement.

But there is another unbodied being present in this painting. There is a gold halo above Chavez and Huerta that expands into the top border of the painting. And all-around Chavez and Huerta are golden triangular rays of light.  Large, dark crimson roses fall in front of the lower part of their bodies that extend out of the lower painting border. All these references are to the Lady of Guadalupe, one of the most revered saints of Mexico and the Spanish speaking world. Inside the gold halo at the top of the painting, you can touch a stylized geometric Aztec eagle.

Surrounding and in-between the rays on the dusty rose background in uncontracted braille is a walking meditation:

Choose your field of operation.

Choose shoes on or off.

First notice your feet touching the earth.

Be aware of the shift in balance as you prepare (mistake) to lift your foot.

(Mistake) Feel your foot glide through space.

Feel the freedom.

As you place your foot, feel the recalculation of balance.

Feel your two feet on the earth again.

Then take a step again saying, lift, carry, place over and over for justice.

Walk with devotion.

Quinacridone Crimson Chavez y Huerta

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White Blindness Series

Bone Black and Lyla’s White: Two Ladies with Lamps

This is a homage to medical workers on a 36” x 36” stretched canvas.

You can feel outlines of two nurses, halos, nurses’ hats, Turkish lanterns, and braille in a painted red cloth behind the nurses. Florence Nightingale is center left mostly in white and just in front her, center right is Mary Seacole with dark skin and darker clothes. Both were nurses during the Crimean War. Both have statues in England. Mary’s Lamp is held high by her left hand in the upper right corner to give light to racial equality and justice. You can feel the texture of the pleated lamp. Nightingale’s lamp is in the lower left corner. Mary’s right hand holds a teacup to her heart with a lotus. She was affectionately called the “Mulatto with the Teacup” by the British soldiers. Nightingale’s left hand holds a rose at her heart for her rose -shaped graphs that proved uncleanliness being responsible for many hospital deaths of soldiers. On top of Florence and Mary’s intersecting pale orange halos is a tower of nursing hats from different nursing schools. There are 5 hats of different tints of white. The lowest hat is very white with a simple curve. On its left upper corner are tiny letters that say “St. Luke’s SF, the nursing school of the artist. The hats are also surrounded by a double halo of an inner bright orange circle with a wide white rim. The halo expands into the upper painting border. And the nurses extend outside the lower border at the hips. Behind the 2 nurses is a red honor cloth floating from the upper left corner diagonally to the bottom right corner. The red honor cloth is often behind the Christian mother Mary or other saints in Medieval paintings. The 2” border is bone black.

The Braille Meditation cascades downward on the left side:
Lovingkindness meditation in the time of the corona virus…
May all beings in the 10 directions, be held in compassion.
May all beings be safe and protected, not one being left behind.

And Braille on bottom right of painting:
May all beings that can be seen or not seen, be healthy and able to help others.
May all beings live with a peaceful heart and without prejudice.
Repeat over and over.
It’s important to include yourself.

Bone Black and Lylas White - Two Ladies with Lamps

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White Blindness Series

Iridescent Gold Helen Keller

The 36” x 36” acrylic mixed media painting depicts Helen Keller, a deaf and blind woman, who has been portrayed in movies in many countries. “The Miracle Worker” is both a play and movie in the USA, and a Bollywood movie in India titled, “Black,” has depicted this icon.

She traveled to 35 countries as an educational advocate for persons with disabilities. Her advocacy was particularly strong in India and Japan. Because of my own strong links to Japan, I have painted her in a kimono, a straight wide dress that wraps around and has long wide flowing sleeves. The dress is held in place by a large, wide sash from the armpits to the hips. It is called an obi. I used the obi of my own Japanese outfit. It is orange silk with a brocade of green swirl designs, but it is very light colored in this painting because of many layers of transparent white glaze. The obi is reinforced with a cord, called an obijime. This is a cord that I learned to braid myself in different gradations of thin threads of purple silk. It is not glazed over and you can feel the small bumpy glass beads of its texture and a large knot in the center and a tassel on her right side. It is traditional that the tassel is tucked in upwards.

In this 36” x 36” stretched canvas, Ms. Keller is in the center of the gold underpainting. Her kimono is a very light blue that flows out of the bottom border. You can feel the outline of large water drops on her kimono sleeves. The word “water” was the first word that she linked to the mysterious hand gestures that she felt from her teacher, Anne Sullivan. Keller’s hair is very light brown, but her face and hands are iridescent gold and contrast with the mostly white painting. Her golden hands are shaping the symbol for the American Sign Language. On her golden forehead is an iridescent red circle, like a red bindu worn in India as a sign for wisdom of the third eye of inner seeing.

Another indication of her ties to India are the very fancy lotuses. Two on the lower left, one in the bottom middle of her dress, and one large one on the lower right above my Chinese signature in dark pink. The tactile lotuses were made on swell graphic paper.

At the top of the painting are two crossing branches of white magnolia trees. Their light purple branches and white blossoms extend outside the golden borders of the painting and her solid white halo. The magnolia tree is a symbol for her childhood home in Alabama. The white magnolias have symbolized peace, dignity, and spirituality.

On the left side of the painting under the magnolia tree is another tactile swell paper. It is the trinity symbol in Christian religions.
There is a hand with an index and middle finger extended downward over the tail of a dove flying downward, with white wings extended and a halo around the dove’s head with a red cross. Helen felt a deep resonance with Emmanuel Swedenborg’s mystical Christianity.

Swedenborg wrote about a vision of a grey room in which he sees colors and their meanings. Inside the 2” golden border there is another ½” grey border.

On the middle, right side of the painting is a white sheet of braille paper curved on top like a church window. It has a meditation:

Eyes
open or closed.
Bring your awareness down from
the top of your head and let it
rest at your heart. You can choose
feeling your breath going into and out of
your heart or you may feel light
pouring into your heart and shining outward
and filling the space around you. If you
are feeling numb or tired,
kindly recognize that. In that case,
rest your attention on your hands or feet.

Iridescent Gold Helen Keller

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Artist

Catherine Lecce-Chong

In the blink of an eye, in 2018, my life and art changed; I lost much of my vision. Decades of classical western painting or traditional Asian painting and calligraphy, would fade away…  But not the passion or the essential drive to create.

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