April 1, 2009
Why draw something that you will never see?
This is perhaps the foremost question on the mind of anyone who studies Abe Rill, his work and his life. Abe Rill is congenitally blind. Like Beethoven in his later years, he cannot enjoy what he creates. But at least Beethoven had the memory of hearing, could perhaps hear his new symphonies in his mind. What is Rill "seeing" when he draws? What is that inspiration, that muse, that thing that possesses him, demands to be brought out? Perhaps it is just what we see on the page, but what is it to Abe Rill?
The earliest known Rill drawing, titled "What Time Is It?" dates back to his teen years. His mother, Virginia Rill, brought it to the attention of her librarian, Arturo Kimbo in 1963. Mr. Kimbo has described this encounter in several interviews. Mrs. Rill was apparently quite agitated by her discovery of this drawing in her house and refused to believe that her son had drawn it. She worried he was having unannounced visitors. Mr. Kimbo's task was to discover if such a thing were possible, and he could find no evidence to substantiate it. At this point, he proposed the simple test that would produce one of Rill's most famous works.
Mrs. Rill proceeded home directly and insisted that her son draw something as she watched. He asked her what he should draw. Anything, she is purported to have said. Draw me... us... this... Rill immediately began to draw the picture that has come to represent him, his work, and the work of so many artists like him, struggling to escape whatever darkness they may be mired in.