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Dark Humor: E. Brooke Lanier Turns Her Failing Vision Into Award-Winning 'Therapeutic' Art

Don Terry for The Chicago Tribune Weekend Magazine, March 23, 2008

Text from the article Painter, print-maker and animator E. Brooke Lanier was born with a cataract on her right eye. Lanier, 24, has had six surgeries on the eye since infancy, and two years ago she suffered a detached retina during her senior year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. “It was like a curtain gradually descending,” she says, “It started getting really painful.” She was forced to drop out of school for a semester and have more eye surgery. “I had to relearn how to keep my eyes open and blink,” she says. While she has lost nearly all the vision in that eye, she has not lost her sense of humor or her artistic ability. Lanier turned her lifetime of visits to optometrist into an award-winning art project, a series of black and white eye charts expressing her wry defiance of the darkness. She reproduced the dimensions of a Snellen Eye Chart into her own rigid form of Haiku editing her message as closely as she could to the exact number of letters. “It was my way of processing what was happening to me,” she says, “It was therapeutic to be so exact.” “I cannot see you but I know you are staring at me,” reads one of her charts, a piece called “Staring.” Another says, “Relax, while I poke you in the eye,” and another, “if you don’t open your eyes soon you will not be able to see.” “Staring” won second place and $6,000 in a national competition for young artists with disabilities sponsored by VSA arts, an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and Volkswagen of America. She is applying to graduate school in art and is pursuing the dream she wrote down in her first grade journal: “When I grow up, I want to be an artist and make pretty pictures.”

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