The way Lisa Fittipaldi recounts it, she had little choice but to become the only blind watercolor artist in the world. Her husband made her. "He had just had emergency surgery, and he told me he couldn't live with me like this, that one of us had to be functional," she says. That was in 1995, just two years after vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels) invaded her optic nerve, robbing the former certified public accountant and financial analyst of her sight in just six months. "He wanted his wife back," she recalls.
To rekindle her zest for life, Fittipaldi, who says she once struggled with thoughts of suicide, registered for a series of classes, all of which ended up being canceled. When an acquaintance asked Fittipaldi to attend a painting workshop with her, it appeared a godsend. Then the acquaintance chose not to go. "I got angry and went by myself," says Fittipaldi, who insists she had no interest in art before that time.
Attending the class didn't do much to foster her appreciation. In fact Fittipaldi found the overall environment largely hostile. On one occasion somebody left a stool in her path, causing her to stumble. And on a regular basis she was bombarded with a counterproductive mantra: "You can't do this." Ironically it was the negative reinforcement that would later propel her to unanticipated heights.
"That's when I really got angry and decided I was going to show the world," Fittipaldi explains. That's exactly what the fledgling artist would do. Using a watercolor set her husband bought, she taught herself the necessary skills and relied on the uncanny accuracy of her memory to create paintings that feature the figure, street scenes, and slices of life. Working with no assistant and relying on tactile contact to guide her, Fittipaldi, who differentiates by touch the three primary watercolors she uses, is developing into a much-lauded artist. Since 1998 her fluid, soft-edged yet realistic works have shown up in galleries and private collections around the world. She also has become quite the media maven, often appearing on radio, in print, and on TV shows such as NBC's Today Show.
Still, Fittipaldi claims she didn't gravitate toward art to become a famous painter. "It's about recovery," she notes. Likewise she says her somewhat renowned status belies the fact that she is still learning. "When I get really confident in what I do, I want to go to India and paint the Ganges River with 1000 people [in it]. That's my goal." A lofty wish, indeed, but given the obstacles she has already overcome, entirely possible.
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Lisa Fittipaldi exhibits her paintings Friday, May 12, through Sunday, May 21, at the Bal Harbour Gallery, Bal Harbour Shops, 9700 Collins Ave, level 2. The artist makes a personal appearance during the opening reception Friday, May 12, from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. Call 305 864-5800 for details.