Jim Greenwood paints as if there’s no tomorrow. In fact, as his eyesight continues an inexorable decline, he is in a race against time.
When Jim was 24 years old he was diagnosed with RP (Retinitis Pigmentosa
), a hereditary disease of the retina that gradually causes a loss of vision. The affected portion of the retina is responsible for central vision in the eye. It controls our ability to read, recognize faces and colors and to see objects in detail. It’s an incurable condition and it’s catching up with Jim as the years go by. He has lost 90% of his vision.
Jim is tall, outwardly in good health, with a background in both art and athletics. For the last few years, he has been unable to drive a car. He needs assistance reading emails and making phone calls. Yet, he paints. Furiously, because he has to.
For decades Jim’s paintings took a back seat to his career as a graphic artist. He and his wife Gayle raised two children, sent them off to college, and looked forward to more leisurely times. Maybe there would be a trip to Italy to see the works of the grand masters. For certain, there would be much time set aside for grandkids.
Then, adversity came calling. Jim’s condition worsened. He was forced to phase himself out of his day job. A gradual return to his passion ensued. At first, there were a few landscapes. Still lifes that reminded him of the art he did for his classes at Florida State. Most of it was, in his words, “uninspiring and nothing that stood out from the crowd.” He was depressed by the loss of his business and unenthused about his art. And he was losing his sight, rapidly.
Along the way, as his vision deteriorated, something happened. His paintings became different. Reality gave way to expressionism. Sharp details gave way to vague, indistinct images. His work became conceptual. Landscapes looked as if they were seen from behind thick glass. Yet, colors were vibrant, exaggerated. Jim mixes his own colors, using two shades of red, blue, yellow and white, and that’s it. Primary colors, in part because that’s what Jim sees.
What was happening? Jim realized that he was now painting as he saw the world. The way he was now seeing it, legally blind. His paintings are as ambiguous as they are hopeful.
And stunning. While there is form and content, shapes are loosely defined, objects at times unrecognizable. The effect is emotional. One wants to stare at his paintings, to linger. They are, in a way, like life is for those of us who are not legally blind- indistinct and mysterious. There is a revelation in them that truth is not in the details. Rather, it is shrouded in vagueness.
What’s next for Jim? Hopefully many paintings. Hopefully that trip to Italy and precious time with his grandkids. While others his age may be coasting to the finish line, Jim is accelerating, open throttle. He has to. There is still so much he has to do.
Friend, former co-worker
Author of ccritically-acclaimed “Swimmers in the Sea”