Keith Rutherford’s message to any young person living with a vision condition is simple - make the most of any support that is available to you.
The Wollongong resident and acclaimed artist lives with low vision due to Stargardt's Disease, a juvenile form of macular degeneration. Now XX,n Keith was diagnosed with the condition in his teens, but acknowledging he was living with the condition was something that took him some time.
“I was diagnosed in 1972, I would’ve been in year 10 at the time. Before I was diagnosed I knew there was something happening with my eyes,” Keith said.
“I was definitely in denial. I think I was probably like a lot of people are when they’re 16. You don’t want to admit that you’re not invincible or that you’re different to anybody else,” he said.
Even after being accused of cheating in his Higher School Certificate because of how close he was holding the exam papers to his face, Keith continued to persevere without support with concerns about how admitting he had a vision condition would impact his ability to be an artist.
“Art was something that I was always interested in and something I always wanted to pursue. My art always reflected things that I had seen, I would reprioduce landscapes and things like that.
“I was worried with my vision deteriorating what that would mean for my art. If I couldn’t really see things then how would I reproduce them?”
Keith went onto study at and graduate from the Alexander Mackie College of Advanced Education. After a brief career in commercial art, he then went on to work as an art therapist before moving to the Illawarra in the 1990s.
During that time Keith took a different approach to his art and moved towards abstract works, rather than realistic pieces.
“In some ways I began embrace what was going on with my vision and use that to tell a bit of a different story in my work.
“My work is a bit more abstract now but I feel that’s got a certain value to it. I think that it’s important to recognise what makes everybody different, I’m still using the landscapes and the things around me as inspiration but my work just comes out a bit different now.”
Keith’s decision to embrace his condition and move to producing abstract work proved to be a successful one, with him going on to win The Dobell Prize for Drawing at the Art Gallery of NSW in 2006.
Along with embracing what was occurring with his vision, Keith also took the time investigate what other support was available to him.
“One of the things I was always worried about was not being able to be independent. My wife and family have always been amazing but I decided to find some more assistance as well and I reached out to Vision Australia.
“The best support I’ve got has come around how to make the most of technology. Learning how to use the accessibility features on an iPad and what apps are accessible has really made a difference.
“It means I can do things like find out bus and train times or check what the weather or surf is doing, all those little things that make a big difference when it comes to being independent.”
With today’s technology assisting him so much, Keith wants younger generations to take advantage of what is available to them.
“Things are so much different now compared to when I was younger. There’s so much more support available and there’s so much more when it comes to how technology can help as well.
“My message to anybody who thinks they could do with some support is to speak up and don’t wait for things to get worse.”
For more information on Vision Australia services, get in touch by phone on 1300 84 74 66 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.