Charles Emmanuel SCHELFHOUT
“My handicap is not the end”
Charles E. Schelfhout (65) suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, as a result of which he can hardly see anything. Yet he still draws daily. “With a little good will, you can still do very interesting things even with a disability,” he says. His works of art are currently on display in the Huis der Nations.
Schelfhout knows that there will come a time when his handicap will catch up with him and he will have to put his pencil away for good. “So be it. There are worse things on earth. In addition, I have ordered my friends and family to say ‘stop’ to me when my drawings no longer look realistic.”
But we are not there yet. Since 2005, Schelfhout has been passionate about drawing sailing ships. “When I was unable to continue my writing and publishing practices due to my illness, I was lost for a while. Until the moment I was waiting for a phone call and out of nowhere started to draw a small ship. That got me thinking.”
Video Interview by AVS 2015:
As a child Schelfhout was passionate about art. He studied at the Center for Decorative Arts in Brussels and dreamed of becoming a set designer. “Until my father forced me to join the family business. I forgot my passion for art. It’s only when I got sick that I picked up the thread again.”
Using a video magnifying glass, he projects what he is drawing onto a screen. “I can no longer see my hand and the artwork itself. But by projecting and magnifying it up to thirty times, I still manage to draw.” With a white pencil on dark blue canvas. “Because I can only perceive the contrast between black and white.
It is no coincidence that Schelfhout focuses on drawing sailing ships. “With my first money I bought a sailing boat. Sailing is a common thread through my life and it is my big dream to go out sailing one day. It’s the only thing I can vividly recall from my memory. Because my memory is my only source of inspiration.”
In the meantime, the draftsman was accepted as an official artist at the Belgian Marine Painters. An acknowledgment that pleases him. “My mind is one of an artist. Yes, I have a disability, but that’s not the end. I’m lucky that I can still draw.”
Break through fog
And Schelfhout also wants to spread this positive message to the rest of the world. That is why he founded the non-profit organization Art and Low Vision to encourage fellow sufferers to break out of their isolation and express themselves creatively. “We are targeting everyone in Belgium with this, because a disability knocks on your door unannounced, regardless of your nationality, skin color or social background. With this non-profit organization we want to demonstrate that it is possible to break through the fog before our eyes, even if it is not always easy.”
Elien van Wynsberghe
Gazet van Antwerpen/Metropolis Stad, Fri. 17 Mar. 2017.