After emergency surgery, painter Lisa Adams temporarily lost her sight but gained a new vision after a long recovery.  Her solo exhibition Second Life is on view at CB1 Gallery from April 7-May 12.

“The shade came down” was a term unknown to me before August 2012 when I had an emergency vitrectomy for a torn and detached retina.  “The shade” refers to a light brown, shadow-type presence that suddenly appeared in the upper right-hand corner of my right eye.  At the time, I thought I was simply having a reaction to the discontinuation of steroid eye drops I had been using after a routine cataract surgery.  In actuality, it was my retina detaching from the back of my eye.

I won’t go into all the details of a vitrectomy but the basic procedure, in my case, is one where the vitreous humor of the eye is drained and replaced with octafluoropropane gas after the retina is reattached to the back of the eye with a laser.  I had to hold my face parallel to the ground for at least a month after surgery so that the gas bubble in the eye could continuously press against the patched retina to insure proper healing.  I even had to sleep face down at night for two months.  For all intents and purposes, I was blind in my right eye for over a month.

The recovery I endured was a journey worthy of note.  I’m a visual artist by profession, a painter to be precise.  As you can imagine, I rely exclusively on my eyes, mind and hands for my livelihood and for any sense of expression.  I was— at the time of “the shade”— right in the middle of painting for a solo exhibition.  All painting stopped, everything stopped.  I had completed approximately half of my show.

After the first two weeks of keeping my head down and parallel to the ground, the thing I missed most was seeing the sky.  There were times during my recovery when I was aware of a deep longing to see the sky and feel it wash over me.  In the past, I had often had a heightened sensation of being on earth when I would look up into a sky full of slow-moving clouds.  With my head facing down, day and night, I could feel myself withdrawing into a very insular world: more insular than the one I’d already created living as an artist, almost more insular than my imagination.  This scared me at first but I found a strange sense of peace: I had a real excuse for doing nothing but recovering.  All demands were suspended with legitimacy, all criticism was silenced.  I felt like I was in space in a suspended orbit: timeless and weightless, silent and filled with an aberrant sense of wonder.

Slowly, as the gas bubble began to absorb into my system, the vitreous humor naturally regenerated and gradually replaced the gas bubble.  During this exchange, and as the gas bubble reduced in size, when I looked down toward the ground what I saw in my central vision was a perfect, beautiful, black eclipse.  In the middle of everything hung this flawless black planet.  As the weeks ticked by, the black ball got smaller and smaller, until one day it vanished.  It was like a miracle.

During my post-op check ups I would tell the doctor that I had, in fact, begun to feel attached to the black eclipse in my eye.  I liked watching it everyday and making note of its diminishing size. To be honest, I missed its presence when it finally disappeared after nine long weeks.

After recovery, I still had half an exhibition to paint so I set to work again.  I can’t say that I picked up exactly where I left off.  I’d traveled so far and made so many paintings in my mind during my silent and weightless space travel.  The unrealized paintings started to get backed up and I struggled to make the work I’d created in my imagination.

Half a dozen paintings resulted but perhaps the most personal is a cinematic painting titled The Mire of Epiphany— a day-for-night sky acting as host to the black eclipse with remnants of a hanging plant settling against the bottom edge of the painting.  The painting is a poetic record of the entire process from “the shade” to aberrant wonder and the imagination.  It begs the question how real is the real world anyway?


Lisa Adams, The Mire of Epiphany, oil on panel, 48″ x 60″, 2013


Image © of the artist and CB1 Gallery