Ray Gerring


Ray Gerring



Abstract 22x30 acrylic

Ray Gerring, 79, works in his basement studio. He has been legally blind since 2004, and sometimes paints an inch away from the canvas. But he found a way — despite the depression caused by his impaired vision — to continue to pursue his lifelong love of painting.
His whole life had been about being an artist, and about teaching art to others. Then it all became a blur. Details of a scene disappeared, and outlines turned into grays.
In December 2004, Ray Gerring, 79, became legally blind.
Gerring had been a relatively healthy man in his retirement years, mentally and physically active.
With the loss of most of his sight, Gerring began a journey into depression.
There were the times when June, his wife of 58 years, would see him sitting with his head in his hands. There were the times he would cry. There were the times he'd get angry over something minor.
"It'd be something like knocking a glass of water over, and I couldn't even see to clean it up," Gerring said. "She had to clean it up.
"It'd just destroy me. I'd get so angry. I was like a crazy person."
In his retirement, he had been doing what he loved so much, which was to paint.
Over the years, along with his work as a commercial artist and advertising-agency art director and 24 years as an art instructor at Seattle Central Community College before retiring in 1988, he had always painted.
Then the ailments of age caught up with him.

It was on a spring day in 1994 that he woke up on a Saturday, opened his eyes and went into emotional shock.

"What my left eye saw was like some crazy stained-window mosaic, like shattered glass," he remembered.
Gerring got the diagnosis, and had to make adjustments for loss of depth perception, but he still could paint. Then, in December 2004, the same happened to his right eye. Gerring said he estimates his left-eye vision at 10 percent of what it used to be. His right eye is better, testing at 20/400, but it still means he's legally blind.
He was prescribed antidepressants. "I didn't have the patience to take those drugs," he said. For a while, much of his day was spent sleeping.
But he always had emotional support from his wife, three grown children and friends.

Gerring suffers from central retinal vein occlusion — a blockage of circulation that drains blood from the retina — which occurs with much higher frequency in people over 65.
"It sends folks on an emotional roller-coaster ride," said Marcia Appleton, supervisor of social services for the Community Services for the Blind and Partially Sighted in Seattle.
But what happens, said Appleton, is that the creative pull "is so compelling that eventually it becomes stronger than the fears of uncertainty and lack of confidence."
In March 2005, Gerring happened to be in his studio when he picked up a jar of acrylic paint. He did some dabbing.

"Hey, I think that works as abstract painting," he thought to himself. The abstracts wouldn't require the fine detail of his earlier works.
Now he sometimes paints an inch away from the canvas, using everything from his fingertips to brushes to rags.
Last November, Gerring had a show at the Arthead Gallery in Wallingford. Three of his paintings were sold.
One of the gallery's owners, Bill Wikstrom, said of Gerring's work, "It's bold and bright and comes from somebody who understands color very well."
Gerring's paintings have been accepted by a committee that selected art for the Gallery in the Shoreline Center, with a two-month show to be scheduled for 2007.
Sometimes, Gerring still has to face the demons of depression. He then often goes to his art studio.

"You can feel something happening and my mood changes," he said. "I hope this doesn't sound corny, but it's like the paintings have this spirit."
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com