One of the funniest quirks Gilbert resident Marieke Davis possesses is her interest in the arts. It’s not because of her artistic talent — a recent win in a national poster contest proves she has skill — but from the way she expresses herself artistically.
What makes it strange is how the artistic fields she specializes in — writing and painting — require the use of something she lacks: her sight.
“It’s weird being a visually impaired visual artist,” she said.
Davis technically has hemianopsia, meaning she lacks half of her visual field, and it requires her to use a cane to get around. For her artistic purposes, the hemianopsia messes with her depth perception and prevents her from reading left to right.
The cause of her vision ailment was the removal of brain tumors, the last of which occurred three years ago when she was a junior at Mesquite High School. She’s actually had three brain surgeries during her life, although she hasn’t had any additional issues arise since that last surgery in 2011. It can’t be easy to have to cope with physical deterioration at such a young age, especially given her life-long interest in the one field she’s loved for much of her life. But she said one of the things that help her cope with the impediments is art, and she’s continued to pursue a career as a graphic novelist despite her status as an artistic oxymoron.
Davis’ visual impairment and artistic flair came together recently when she took first place in a poster contest sponsored by Choice Magazine Listening — a nonprofit organization that creates audio magazines for the blind, visually impaired and physically disabled. Associate Editor David Page said Davis’ poster stood out for its vibrancy and use of color, among other decisive factors.
“This entry was the one that really excelled in every category,” he said.
Choice Magazine Listening will send a copy of the poster to libraries and assisted-living facilities across the country as a means to promote its services to people who need it. Page said it’s a good way to promote what the organization provides to the visually impaired.
Davis said she entered the competition because of the organization’s mission and how it fit with her situation, but it’s not common for her to combine her artistic bent with her visual impairment, or even with her repeated bouts of cancer. The cancer and vision problems have certainly contributed to her personality, with Davis saying the cumulative experience has added a little bite to her art, but it’s not a defining feature of her life.
“Sometimes I consider it a disability, but for me it’s not that noticeable until I run into something,” she said.
The real inspiration for her art is feminism, in particular the issues women face on a day-to-day basis. She talks about the growing problems with sex trafficking across the country, the rise in sexual assaults at college campuses — that includes her school, Arizona State University — and the reasons why certain ideas like the association of pink with girls have become ingrained in culture.
She knows she has an uphill battle to face, especially as an aspiring graphic novelist. Men have dominated the field since the very first comic book, and the dearth of women has left aspiring artists like Davis few female role models.
While there are a few graphic artists who create interesting and complex female characters — Davis’ beloved Neil Gaiman being one — the multitude of men in the field has resulted in a field known almost as much for its sexism as its artistic value.
“I feel a lot of guys don’t understand how hard it is to be a woman in this world,” she said.
Her dream is to break through the proverbial glass ceiling and become an established graphic artist herself. She’s honing her talents at ASU and has gained traction as a writer as well. Her short story, “The Onlookers” was chosen as part of an anthology ASU will release this fall.
Davis’ ideal next step is to establish her own gallery to feature and showcase other artists to get more voices out there. All she has to do to get there is follow a piece of advice Gaiman offered in a graduation speech Davis has listened to repeatedly and quotes from time to time.
“Just make good art,” she said.
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