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Visually impaired artist from Orillia featured in Toronto exhibition

Robyn Rennie's abstract landscapes will be on display Feb.1-13; 'It’s the experience of seeing artwork from someone who doesn’t see well'
2020-01-29 Robyn Rennie
Robyn Rennie, an Orillia artist with a vision impairment, is shown with one of her paintings that will be part of an exhibition of her work at the Cedar Ridge Creative Centre in Toronto, starting Saturday. Nathan Taylor/OrilliaMatters

Robyn Rennie wasn’t always an abstract artist. The style was somewhat forced upon her.

“I was a highly realist painter before I had to find a new way,” said the Orillia artist.

She has been painting for most of her life, but in 2005, acute bilateral optic neuritis caused her to start losing her vision. The severe vision loss came about over the course of six days.

She forged ahead with her art, though.

“I started painting to show people how I see because everybody’s curious,” Rennie said.

It wasn’t easy. When she tried to get her work in a gallery, it was rejected.

“I didn’t pick up a brush for two years after that,” she said. “I was devastated.”

Rennie eventually got back to her passion, and it is paying off. This weekend, an exhibition of her abstract landscapes will open at the Cedar Ridge Creative Centre in Toronto. Her work will be on display from Saturday until Feb. 13.

She has created the exhibit in a way that is accessible to those with vision impairments. The CNIB, for which Rennie is an ambassador, has provided the Braille that will accompany the pieces, providing a description of the work. Rennie has also used large print to explain the pieces, and visitors can scan a code on their mobile devices, prompting an audio description.

“It’s very important for me to see some other people with low vision have as much acceptance and as much help as possible,” Rennie said, noting visitors will be able to touch some of the work that has tactile elements. “It’s the experience of seeing artwork from someone who doesn’t see well.”

An opening reception for the exhibit will take place Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m.

Closer to home, Rennie is looking forward to having her own exhibit at the Orillia Museum of Art and History in 2024. That show, too, will be accessible — even more so than the Toronto one.

“We want to make it so that anyone who is blind can go by themselves,” Rennie said, noting the show will include assistive devices.

More details about the Orillia show will be released closer to the date. In the meantime, “I’ve got a lot of painting to do,” Rennie said with a smile.

To see her work before then, stop in at the Orillia Museum of Art and History to check out the International Women’s Day Art Show that opens Feb. 8. Rennie will have a piece on display as part of the show.


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Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is the desk editor for Village Media's central Ontario news desk in Simcoe County and Newmarket.
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