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Tomas Bustos with his work, “Masterpiece: Relief for the Blind”
Courtesy of Tomas Bustos
Tomas Bustos with his work, “Masterpiece: Relief for the Blind”

For this month’s ArtWorks, Torin Andersen talks with Tomas Bustos about his tactile approach to art.

Most of us experience art by looking at it. Tomas Bustos is helping people who are visually impaired experience the classic masterworks with their hands. For this month’s ArtWorks, Torin Andersen talks with Bustos about his tactile approach to art.

Tomas Bustos is a 3D artist. As Bustos was leaning into retirement, he and his wife were looking through pictures from their trip to the Louvre.

"My wife says, 'It's a shame that the blind would never see the 'Mona Lisa.' And it kind of gave me an idea to do a, a relief." 

Bustos put his experience to work casting a bronze replica as close to detail as the original "Mona Lisa." He took it to Envision and asked to have a patron experience the work. Bustos describes the observation.

Courtesy of Tomas Bustos

"He's totally blind from birth. He's never seen color, he's never seen any anything. And he started touching her with two hands, kind of spread open a little bit. He's feeling it. And once he figured out it was a woman with long hair and her hands were crossed in front of her, he says, 'It's a woman. And then my friend says, 'Can I tell him who it is?' I say, 'Yes.' He says, 'It's the 'Mona Lisa.' And he said 'That the gentleman took a step back in reverence, in respect to the 'Mona Lisa.' And he says, 'I've never seen the Mona Lisa before until today.' So he reaches in there to touch again, but now his hands are very close together, touching her nose and touching her smile. And so to me, he was focusing in on the details. And at that moment, I felt like I was onto something. "

Bustos then decided he wanted to replicate the famous work of Grant Wood, the farmer with his pitchfork and daughter, titled, "American Gothic". He explained to the estate presiding over the painting that he had an audience who had never seen the work.

"And they said, 'Oh no, this art piece has been all over the world. Everybody knows it.' I said, 'I'm putting together an art show. I have the Mona Lisa done. I have 'Starry Night' done, I have the 'Girl With the Pearl Earring' done. I really would like to include 'American Gothic"."

With permission from the estate, Bustos set out to replicate "American Gothic". He explains the process of creating a bronze relief.

Courtesy of Tomas Bustos

"I had to go and see it myself. I studied the piece, studied the artist, and I was able to do the replica in clay. And then I make the mold myself, and I have a cast in a, in resin or plaster. Once the mold is is good, I'm happy with it, then I'll send it to the foundry and they'll cast it in bronze." 
Bustos teaches for Envision to help the visually impaired make a living or just some extra money using their hands to create 3D art works. Bustos is also planning his future of sharing more art for the visually impaired.

"I said, 'I want to make this into an art history class.' I’m thinking of doing a Pollock. The next piece that I'm gonna do is 'The Scream' to get into what they call modern art. Also, I want to do a piece of the cave paintings they found in France. And I want to represent different artists from different countries that have changed the world."

“Masterpiece: Relief for the Blind” by Tomas Bustos is on exhibit at the Envision Arts Gallery through July 28th.

He has more than 20 years of experience shaping and documenting the arts in Wichita.