A blind sculptor creates and shares touchable art.
Please touch! Please touch these beautiful bronze statues. This uncommon invitation was made by the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. The exhibit is a collection of statues created by Michael Naranjo, a New Mexico native who was blinded as a soldier in Vietnam. His inspiration is nature and what art he remembers seeing in galleries growing up in his hometown of Taos, New Mexico.
Michael Naranjo was born in the Santa Clara Pueblo with nine siblings, many of whom are practicing potters. His mother, Rose, was a celebrated ceramic artist who taught her children and grandchildren the art of pottery. For Naranjo, learning to make things from clay was a natural outgrowth of his artistic spirit.
After returning from Vietnam, Naranjo attended the California School for the Blind. He returned to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he began the challenge of trying to sculpt without having sight and with greatly reduced use of his right hand, which also had been injured. He married and set to work learning his craft, while he and his wife raised two daughters.
Working with intuition and touch, his art began to emerge, to flow with composition, balance, and movement. Naranjo's style is simple; he uses his fingers and fingernails to etch the details in his sculptures. He does not use traditional sculpting tools since he cannot see what impact the tool has on the clay. Understandably, Naranjo will scrap a piece of work if its "feel" isn't right. Laurie, his wife of 27 years, sometimes has to rescue his work before he destroys it in his quest for perfection.
Sculptor Michael Naranjo explores Michelangelo's masterpiece.
© Terry Ketler, courtesy of Michael and Laurie Naranjo
Naranjo and one of his own sculptures.
© Jim Hall, courtesy of Michael and Laurie Naranjo
An interesting aspect of Michael Naranjo's sculpture is that over the last 30 years, his sense of touch has been refined by contact with the masters. The Academy Gallery in Florence, Italy, and the Louvre in Paris allowed him to examine their treasures--in Paris, the Medici Venus, and in Florence, Michelangelo's David. The authorities granted the rare privilege of allowing him to observe the masterpieces by touching them. By touch, Naranjo was able to observe minute details of the statues, such as the fact that in the eyes of Michelangelo's statue, the pupils are shaped like hearts. But while he observes the eyes of others' work, his own statues never have eyes, something it takes a while to realize as one appreciates the many other aspects of his work.
Through the traveling exhibit of his touchable art, organized by the Heard Museum, Naranjo seeks to share with others what he views as an opportunity for transformation through direct contact with art. He and his wife have established the Touched by Art Fund, a Santa Fe community foundation to enable public school students in New Mexico to visit museums and galleries. The gallery that currently carries Naranjo's work is the Nedra Matteucci Gallery in Santa Fe. The gallery's Web site is http://www.matteucci.com.
From the e-journal "Disability & Ability"