Smith: The paintings the artist's never seen

  • Ken Rossi with his artwork in his apartment.

Visitors young and old venture into the Sonoma County Museum for the exhibit of art by people with disabilities and they marvel at the vivid landscapes of Ken Rossi.

Then they hear he's completely blind. Mouths drop.

Rossi is well-known in Sonoma County, though not so much for his artwork. Also unable to walk, he's the unstoppable Piner High alum who still travels Santa Rosa by tapping a white cane ahead of a manual wheelchair despite having been slammed by a car and nearly killed in a Montgomery Drive crosswalk in 2006.

Most of Rossi's paintings predate the accident. Born 48 years ago with poor vision and blinded as a teen by progressive glaucoma, he relies on his memories of colors and shapes and shadows.

Still painting on occasion, Rossi uses oil pastels and asks a helper to set out in one area of his workspace the spectrum colors from red to violet and in another the white, grey, black and brown.

He custom-mixes with a finger and copies from memories and dreams the shapes of mountains, trees, rivers, clouds and such.

"I actually don't know how they turn out," he said. Many lovers of art have told him over the years his creations turn out remarkably.

"His works have the feel of a trained artist, just the way he composes," said Cynthia Conway, curator of education at the county museum. The exhibit "Margins to Mainstream: Contemporary Artists with Disabilities," continues there until Sept. 15.

Rossi has friends who were born blind and can't conceive the hues of the sky or an autumnal tree, or a river, sunset or apple. "You can never describe green or blue," the artist said.

"Oh, I'm so grateful I saw colors."

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