How an artist plagued with progressive blindness fell in love, moved to France and became an internationally famous digital surrealist.
I first came across George Redhawk by accident. Someone on my Facebook shared a GIF.
A GIF, for the very few who don’t know what I’m talking about, is a short, animated image, usually looping in on itself. This one showed a human face; a man, woman, I can’t tell, but on his head was a phoenix vomiting fire. His eyes and cheeks were covered by its wings, which rustled and flowed, their feathers lit up like embers.
It was surreal. The image was tagged Redhawk.
Eventually, I found more. A broken woman crying lava. Two lovers facing one another, their bodies burning like suns. A man pushing rocks into his belly. The original art was mostly by Tomas Alen Kopera, a Polish engineer-turned-artist obsessed with beautifully, intricate fantasy subjects. The animations were by George Redhawk, an American living in the French Riveira. Redhawk was blind. Although declared legally blind, he retains partial sight: while functioning in “the sighted world (as he puts it)” is difficult, he can work within the limited environment of a computer using magnification tools.
I was stunned. George’s work spans several volumes. His multi-part “the World through my Eyes” series spans volumes. His work’s been featured in everything from the Huffington Post to Vice.
George’s story is amazing. Raised in loving care in what what he called an “extraordinary childhood”, George was one of six children, and raised by a tight-knit family. Born with perfect normal eyesight, he grew up to be a teacher, instructing students in medical science and lab techniques. Things took a turn for the worse when George began to suffer from progressive retinal damage.
“My loss of sight destroyed my career, my life, my freedom, my autonomy,” he told me briefly over email. “My entire life, I lived knowing the look in my parents eyes, of love, and their expressions of joy and happiness in my presence. One day that changed. Their expressions of joy and happiness had changed into a look of shock, horror, and pain. Their son is blind.
“It was the same expression I saw in everyone who looked at me and it destroyed me. Knowing that my presence caused the people I loved so much pain and concern for a once successful life, career, and future sent me into a very dark place.”
As his eyes deteriorated, in desperation, he began to use what sight he had left to memorize everything beautiful, as if to take it into the darkness with him. He found art resonated with him; the remixing he does turned into his way of exploring his feelings about his loss of sight.
“My artwork was, and is, a personal exploration into and out of the darkness I live everyday in my life,” he says. “There is always a piece of themselves that goes into an artist’s work,” he explains. “In my art I say all the things I never learned how to speak, nor found a voice for. I search for art of of other very talented artists that trigger these emotions within me, and I attempt to project these emotions in my perspective of these works.”
He found material in the likes of Antonio Mora and Tomas Kopera. And as time went on, his work became better and better from time and practice, until the artists of the original works began to take notice of what he was doing. To everyone’s surprise, the Internet caught on. “Le Daredevil de l’Art”, the French magazines have dubbed him, after Marvel’s blind hero.
But the story gets better. He fell in love.
“One day, on Myspace (yes, Myspace, lol) I met Marie,” he says. “We developed a closeness and immediate connection, but God is a funny guy, and he put her halfway around the world! Here i was, just a few years into blindness, and struggling to find the strength just to walk a few blocks down the street, feeling my way with my white cane, just to buy a pack of cigarettes and yet there was this pull to go to France to take a chance to find a new life.
“My poor parents and family! They thought i had certainly gone mad from my blindness when I told them of my plans to go to France! but I knew in my heart that the right path was being placed before me and I purchased my plane ticket online. One way to France.”
Three months later, in a small ceremony in Menton, France, surrounded by Marie’s family, they were married. “It has been 7 years now,” he says (eight now; I spoke to him last year). “And I still wake up to the same first thought, ‘I’m in France!’ 4 years ago, we added Shish-Inday to our family and with his eyes, his love, and his devotion to helping me, a whole new world to explore has opened up for me.”
Shish-Inday is his dog. George sometimes refers to him as his wolf. They make a lovely pair.
Magic Morph is old. To be honest, I find it difficult to use, so sometimes people don’t believe him. “It is only that i have been working with it every day for hours since 2010 to reach this level,” he explained once on his Google Plus to a skeptic. “If you ask “how do you play a piano?” I would say you press the keys and it makes sound. But if you wish to be a concert pianist, well then, you need to practice every day for hours to even have a chance. It does take a lot of practice to get these results.”
“What lessons would you say life has taught you?” I asked as my last question. Cliche, but I figure a man who refuses to let blindness get in his way and had the courage to chase his dream all the way to France has something to share. These are not experiences most of us are going to have.
His reply is solemn, even over text.
“My Father taught me I needed strength. My mother taught me there is strength in faith and love. My brothers, cousins, and all my extended family taught me there is strength in unity. My sisters taught me there is strength in giving.
“My blindness taught me i will need all the strength that they have taught me.”
I write this because I find George Redhawk an inspiration. To me he’s living proof that nothing’s really impossible if really you put your mind to it.
And that often, the things that hurt you the most turn you into who you are, and who you will be remembered as.