Painted in what Cecil Riley describes as his ‘post macular years’ – the years since developing Charles Bonnet Syndrome – Cecil’s works feature the extraordinary visual hallucinations he experiences after losing part of his sight.
Cecil’s works were exhibited as part of Affecting Perception, in March 2013. We invited Dr Dominic ffytche, a Consultant Neuropsychiatrist at the Institute of Psychiatry to speak on Art and Visual Hallucinations. Dr ffytche specialises in visual hallucinations, such as those Cecil Riley experiences as part of his condition.
RS: When you paint them, for example when you painted the picture of the Eyes, are you trying to represent them exactly or are you using them as inspiration?
CR: I tended on the whole to see only one or two eyes. They seemed to float across the vision and that gave me the idea to do a collection of eyes. They did also seem to come towards me so there is a sort of dimensional element there I guess. This is shown in the painting, as the large ones are at the bottom sort of coming towards you.
RS: Do you find it cathartic to paint or is it more distressing?
CR: Well just recently since i had that mini stroke it is distressing. I’m trying now to paint and I’m looking at a blank piece of paper and I just can’t make a start. I keep making excuses not to start. But that is more psychological really.
RS: I want to go back to before the onset of your visual symptoms, to talk about when you first became an artist. What drove you to become an artist? Was it out of academic interest or was it a compulsion, a drive to create?
CR: I started out at my prep school we had a funny old art master there who got me going. I won the art prize there and then I went to St Paul’s School for Boys and then the Slade school in London. I was the founder of the Slade society and its first President. Then I was a conscientious objector in the Second World War.
RS: Do you think that your condition has changed you as an artist?
CR: I had to change my painting style. You saw my big, madly detailed triptych? I find that now I have to use broader brush strokes and eccentric viewing. This is something Dr Dominic Ffytche told me about. If I look directly at your face it is all out of focus and I can’t see you very well but if I look to the side, using the part of the macular that is not diseased, then I can see much better. So when I start to paint, I have to look to the side and put my brush where I can see it. Compared to the early painting I’ve got much broader because of that.