Old Blind Doug library

Old Blind Doug, as he calls himself, stands next to his artwork on display at the Athens Public Library. Doug has severe visual impairment.

Visitors of the Athens Public Library may be surprised to learn that one of the artists whose works are currently on display in the library suffers from severe visual impairment. He calls himself Old Blind Doug.

Old Blind Doug, or Doug for short, said he has been working with watercolor for two years. He originally worked as a painting contractor, and his father worked as a commercial painter. (He declined to give his last name for this interview, though the Athens Public Library website and a YouTube video identify him as Doug Curtis.)

“I’ve been dealing with color and painting all my life,” he said. His wife, Joy, an artist who works with oil paints, also has work on display in the library.

Old Blind Doug’s work includes a variety of studio paintings and plein air paintings, which are paintings created usually outdoors with the surrounding scenery as the subject. Sixteen of his paintings are on display in cases in the Athens Public Library.

In order to create a plein air painting, Doug finds something he wants to paint by using a magnifying instrument that he called his “ocular,” and draws it by using another instrument that he called his “big eye.” His studio paintings are completed in his studio with other methods of magnification. 

Doug said he doesn’t limit himself to specific subjects in his work. He focuses on colors and shapes and enjoys experimenting with his paintings. One such experiment, which is included in his display at the library, used both watercolor paint and ink applied with a sharpened stick.

He also makes series of works that are based around a specific theme, such as his British series and his “disposable art” series.

Doug, Joy and their children moved to Athens from Upstate New York over 30 years ago. According to Doug, fate brought the family to Athens. 

Doug, 65, became officially blind when he was 59. Between 2005 and 2009, Doug struggled with an eye disease that resulted in eight surgical procedures. 

Doug is now completely blind in his left eye and has about 20 percent vision in his right eye. He can see color and shapes but lacks depth perception and see multiples of everything.

He said that his visual limitation is both a blessing and a curse. Though he can’t do as much as he could before he was blind, he said, he won’t let it hold him back. 

After he lost most of his eyesight, Doug opened a bookstore in Nelsonville in 2010 but eventually closed it. Between 2011 and 2012 Doug owned a toy store where he lived, in Shade, but closed it as well.

“Everyone needs a purpose to get out of bed, and I was searching for that,” Doug said. 

Doug wanted to create something. Once he discovered watercolor painting, which was cheaper than oil painting, he said it became his salvation.

“I found such joy in painting that I never thought I could have again,” he said.

Doug taught himself how to paint by practice and by watching artists such as Frank Clarke, who taught Doug the lesson that there are no excuses to not paint. He said that Joy also steered him to paint.

Doug said that he enjoys people and doesn’t mind reaching out to others. 

“I think it’s my obligation to tell people that giving up is not the answer,” he said. “Becoming blind has given me a new perspective on life.”

Old Blind Doug said he hopes to give a presentation over the summer at the library to discuss his art and blindness. His artwork in the library will remain on display until the end of this week.

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