Madeleine’s creative mission
Declining vision has not dimmed painter Madeleine Popper’s creative spirit.
The Melbourne artist, who has lived with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) since 2002, is one of three legally blind artists whose work will feature in the Exhibition ‘My Vision Works’ at Gasworks Arts Park, Albert Park, from 12 to 31 July.
Her work will appear alongside that of Claire Hogan who has dominant optic atrophy and Jack Fitz-Walter who lives with glaucoma.
“When I was first diagnosed with macular degeneration 20 years ago, I was told I would not be able to drive, read or see people’s faces within two years,’’ says Madeleine.
“This was devastating to me as an artist – walking out of the clinic I thought ‘what am I going to do?’”
The revelation that she would lose her sight made Madeleine more determined to pursue her passion for the arts. It was only around this time that she seriously launched into oil painting. Today, her sight has declined to the point she can no longer see the end of a brush, so she paints with her fingers instead.
“I feel joy in daubing my fingers in paint, then manipulating it with different motions. My whole self is at work – it is very instinctive and very sensual.
“I would describe my work as impressionistic – I have no central vision at all – but I make use of colour and my technique has definitely improved over the years.
“I enjoy what I do and I like a challenge.’’
About age-related macular degeneration
AMD affects the macula – the central part of the retina at the back of the eye. The macula is full of light-sensitive cells that give us sharp central vision when we look straight ahead.
In AMD, the cells in the macula gradually break down. This can lead to blurred central vision, making it hard to read, drive and recognise faces.
There are two forms of late stage AMD – wet and dry.
In late stage wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina and bleed, often leading to sudden vision loss.
Dry AMD is also called Geographic Atrophy, which is where an irreversible degeneration of retinal cells occurs. This leads to a gradual and permanent loss of central vision.
Madeleine has the dry form of the disease.
“There are no treatments and nothing that can be done,’’ she says. “But I have kept pursuing my creativity. ’’
She is committed to raising awareness of the people living with low vision and blindness, and creating a platform for other artists with impaired vision.
Research focuses on dry AMD
CERA’s Head of Macular Research Professor Robyn Guymer AM has known Madeleine Popper for many years.
“In my clinical and research work, I’m privileged to meet with many people living with AMD and hear their stories,’’ she says.
“The trust they put in me and my team keeps me motivated to keep searching for treatments that will improve patients’ quality of life.”
Professor Guymer says that although there are currently no approved therapies or dry AMD, she says that through research collaborations in Australia and internationally we now have the prospect of new treatments within reach.
“Researchers are now very much on the cusp of finding a treatment for dry AMD,’’ she says.
“Through the efforts of the team here at CERA and researchers around the world, we are investigating treatments that could slow down vision loss and prevent people progressing from the early to the late stages of the disease.’’
Looking to the future
Madeleine Popper says she hopes that the upcoming exhibition encourages more interest in the creative achievements of people with low vision and blindness – but also gets people thinking about the importance of research for an ageing population.
“Vision research is very important,’’ she says. “Vision loss is going to affect more and more people – and I want to do my bit to let people know about this issue.’’
My Vision Works will be held at the Foyer Gallery, Gasworks Art Park, 1-35 Graham Street, Albert Park from 12-31 July 2022.
For more information visit gasworks.org.au
*Photo of Madeleine Popper and her artwork courtesy of Mia Gardiner, Australian Jewish News.