Visually-impaired IT consultant Neill Mison exhibits paintings and prints in Newark's Buttermarket
A talent for art may not seem likely attribute for a visually-impaired IT consultant, but Neill Mison’s paintings and prints show a remarkable skill, despite his condition.
The Fernwood father-of-two has exhibited recently in Newark’s Buttermarket and has been encouraged by the response, despite one or two unkind and unthinking comments on social media:
“I had a couple of people message me saying ‘How can you say you’re visually impaired when you can paint? If you can paint you can see.’ But I’ve had a lot more flattering comments — 200 or more.”
Neill, 53, has a congenital eye condition called ocular albinism — a lack of pigment in the retina — which means the eye doesn’t develop as it should. This in turn causes a condition called nystagmus, where the eyes don’t stay still and wobble as they continually try to focus.
He has about a sixth of normal vision, rising to a quarter with contact lenses, but apart from being unable to see the detail in the dramatic landscapes and buildings he paints, it also makes it impossible for him to pick out faces in a crowd or judge distances.
“I’ve never driven because I wouldn’t be able to read a number plate at a distance, and I have only about 80% colour vision as well, “ said Neill, of Carnell Lane.
You would never guess this from the intense, vivid greens of Neill’s landscapes or the variegated hues of his street pictures, but Neill’s inability to see detail and his difficulty drawing a straight line simply lends itself to a more impressionistic style.
“I don’t know how far the the impairment affects what I do but I’m unable to do the fine detail, or if I do it doesn’t look quite right.
“The condition runs in my family on my mother’s side and they just called it ‘wobbly eye’, so she was looking out for it when I was born.
“I was diagnosed at three months and had my first pair of glasses at ten months’ old, held on with a bit of elastic round the back of my head.”
Despite this early awareness Neill, was not properly diagnosed until the age of 49.
He is now taking part in a research programme into nystagmus, conducted by Leicester University, with similar research programmes also running in Cardiff and Bristol into the little-known condition.
“The research is to look into causes and treatments. I’m on some medication to see if it slows down the eye movement but it’s not had a great deal of effect,” Neill said.
Neill had shown artistic promise as a teenager, a talent his teachers encouraged, but he stopped painting in his early 20s and didn’t pick up his brushes again until last year.
“I was trying to get the children to do something away from electronic devices and I said ‘Let’s draw and paint.’ I did a painting of Dartmouth castle from a photo I had had for ages,” he said.
Not only did the impromptu art lesson inspire daughter Abigail, 12, and son William 10, it rekindled Neill’s own enthusiasm, and Abigail now wants to pursue art and design as a career.
Neil is also a keen runner and triathlete, training to compete in the Manchester Marathon on April 7, raising funds for Nystagmus Network, a charity that supports people with his condition.