A retrospective of blind artist Ron Satok’s innovative artwork was presented over two evenings at Toronto’s Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) recently.
Satok’s slide presentations included his artwork from Toronto, Mexico, Japan, England and New York, created during two stages of his life: his 22 sighted years and 33 non-sighted years.
Satok, now 77, was already an established painter when he lost his sight in 1976 as a result of glaucoma. Remarkably, rather than giving up, he continued to paint despite this handicap.
“Great artists are the ones who march to their own drummer – it’s a necessity to do so. In years gone by, nobody was setting a trend,” Satok said to a group of family, friends and art enthusiasts recently at the CNIB.
Taking his own advice, Satok travelled to Mexico in the summer of 1959 looking for inspiration. “I went to a country that made me very emotional – watching women washing clothes on flat rocks and watching blind vendors selling brought out the emotion and passion in me,” Satok said.
“I knew I was in the right place. I saw things that you don’t see in Toronto or New York. That’s what I needed. You can’t always get passionate about something unless you’re living it.”
In Mexico, Satok went on a third-class bus and observed a young girl standing asleep beside her younger brothers, who were asleep on a bench.
“I thought to myself, ‘How can she be that way without falling over when the bus lunges forward?’ I was mesmerized. After watching her, I went home and from memory drew Children Asleep on a Bus. That’s the way you learn, by doing it. Looking at the feet and at the shoulders is how you teach yourself how to draw, not from sketching or photography,” he said.
Satok preferred using a pastel or a charcoal pencil and a limited amount of paint – that way he’d have more control and wouldn’t have to wait for paint to dry.
After receiving a fellowship, the artist worked in Japan and England. In Tokyo, a Sumo theme became prominent in his work as he was fascinated with the gestures of Sumo wrestlers. “Wrestlers lifted up opponents and carried them across the ring, but they couldn’t slash or punch,” he said.
While in Japan, Satok discovered kumohada paper, a large-woven porous paper that inspired him to express himself in new ways. In London, he experimented by drawing with dark charcoal pencils that grazed the surface of the kumohada paper and gave it a tapestry-like quality seen in Conversations with Yoshiko, a seven-by-seven-foot charcoal, pastel and acrylic painting of abstract faces within a circle format.
Satok’s work has been showcased in museums and public spaces all over the world. During his sighted years, Satok was commissioned to create works such as Face-off, a vibrant hockey mural whose central portion, Detail, is on exhibit in the VIP entranceway of BMO Field at Exhibition Place in Toronto.
In his non-sighted years, he was commissioned to do One Force of Destiny, a 14-by-16-foot mural consisting of three-quarters of a million tesserae (Italian glass mosaics), on display at the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre on Front Street. With the assistance of patients from the Donwood Institute, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre, and students of the Toronto Catholic District School Board, the mural was completed in eight months in 1988.
Satok attributes his love of the arts to his parents, who inspired him since he was a child. He studied visual arts at the Ontario College of Art.
After losing his eyesight, Satok founded the Satok School of the Arts, where he has taught children and adults who are blind or physically or developmentally challenged to discover their innermost emotions and transpose them into art.
Satok received an Order of Ontario Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994.
“When you have a calling, believe in the power of it and follow your dream,” he said.
For more information, about Satok and the Satok School of the Arts, call 416-967-0780.