Left blind after an accident, artist’s first solo show stars her guide dog

NEW YORK – How does it feel to have your life change in an instant?

Emilie Gossiaux was an art student at the Cooper Union in 2010 when she was hit by an 18-wheel truck while on her bike in Brooklyn.

She suffered a traumatic brain injury, a stroke and multiple fractures. While she ultimately regained her life, she had lost her sense of sight. She struggled to decide if she could, or even wanted to, continue making art.

“I had to adjust that framework in my head of what it means to be an artist,” said Gossiaux, now 34, who had always viewed her ability to draw and paint as “my absolute superpower”.

From age four, her favourite thing to do was copy cartoons on television. At five, she began to experience hearing loss, which only heightened her attention to images and facial expressions. “I just became more hyper-aware of using my vision,” said Gossiaux, who now wears hearing aids. “That was my way of learning and understanding.”

After the catastrophic accident that blinded her, she spent 11 months at a training centre called Blind Inc in Minneapolis, learning skills to navigate the world independently, including use of a white cane.

There, in a woodworking shop, she also learnt how to translate images in her mind using hand-to-hand, rather than eye-to-hand, coordination.

When sketching, she lays her paper on a rubber pad called a Sensational Blackboard that embosses the lines as she draws with one hand, following along with her other hand to feel the images. “I’m using one hand to ‘see’, the other hand to carve or draw or manipulate” the object, said Gossiaux, who did return to Cooper Union, where she graduated in 2014.

And she learnt to listen to her body and recognise the importance of rest, and of bed as a place to freely imagine her ideas. Only then did she feel she could really be an artist again.

“I allowed myself to sort of daydream about the work I wanted to make and not be so rigid,” said Gossiaux, petite and beatific, sitting in her studio at the Queens Museum, where she has been in residence for the past year on a Jerome Foundation Fellowship for Emerging Artists.

On Dec 6, her youthful dream came to fruition with the opening of Other-Worlding, her first solo museum exhibition, which runs through April 7. It celebrates her 13-year-old guide dog, London, and their mutual dependency. “I protect her and she protects me,” she said.

On a more universal scale, her art seems to remove barriers between animals and the rest of the natural world.

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