Omaha artist Belinda Barnao’s artwork captures her way of seeing the world and has evolved from her lack of full literal vision.
She refers to being partially sighted as her unique “mysterious input”.
Unable to work from any reference, working drawing or life subject, and only from close proximity to her canvas, she delves into her imagination for visual content.
It is in this way Belinda creates work she describes as, “being free from external references and pressures”. And she has experienced a fair amount of success, which has enabled her to pursue her passion on a full-time basis.
Belinda, who moved from Wellington to Omaha Flats Road about a year ago, started painting at school in Auckland but at the age of 17, she was diagnosed with Star Gardts disease.
“I was only the fourth person in the world known to have it at the time,” she says.
The condition causes progressive damage or degeneration of the macula, which is a small area in the centre of the retina responsible for sharp, straight-ahead vision. There is no cure although its effects can stabilise.
At 21, Belinda’s central vision failed.
“I was just driving down the road and lost my sight. The condition stabilised when I was 24, but not a lot was known about it at that time and I just had to come to terms with it. It was a case of lay down and die or get up and go.”
The 52-year-old, who is self-taught, has been a full-time painter for about 10 years now. Her previous vocations have included being a sports massage therapist and doing live music for events.
She exhibits throughout New Zealand, has works held in private collections nationally and internationally, and “creates rich, tactile oils that explore light, surface and the power of colour”.
“Because of my eye condition, I have developed my own style,” she explains. “My work has lots of texture and colours.
“I have been selected for the New Zealand Art Show in Wellington in the past, which I sell a lot of work through. It’s a huge event and I’ll be there again this June.
“Over Christmas I sold a lot of work from my old studio – Studio 85 on Omaha Flats Road – where I worked for about a year.
“I am now based next to Brambles Cafe at Matakana Country Park, which is a great place to expose my artwork to the public. My style is very different. People tend to like it or not.”
Belinda is also showing her work at the Black Door Gallery in Parnell, Auckland, and at the Black Dog Cafe in Matakana.
The mother of two is also involved in charity work. For example, she is putting works into an auction for a fundraiser at Orewa High School on May 6, and over Easter, she was at Matakana Country Park with a percentage from her sales going towards funding a playground.
Belinda uses all kinds of “exciting and non-traditional techniques” to get her point onto canvas, such as her bare hands, spatulas, show brushes and paint-tube lids – the latter to form circles on her pieces as creative signatures.
She uses high-quality paints that absorb and reflect light, which causes some of her work to come alive at night.
While most of Belinda’s work is abstract, her painted surfaces often hide motifs such as moons and forests. As the artist describes, “figures appear mysteriously but belong immediately”.
“My materials include resins, shellac, inks and oil, which I build up over many months and it creates physical weight to my canvases,” she says. “My work is totally open to interpretation, and has a habit of evolving as I work quickly and instinctively. The more you look at it, the more you can see in it.”