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How going ‘Blind at The Age of Four’ inspired musician and fine artist GAUNT’s debut album and exhibition.

Great art teaches us about being human and GAUNT’s work is a crash course in the subject.

Through the sheer amount of ways to interact with Blind at The Age of Four – the album, the paintings, the performances, the exhibition, the billboards – you can learn a lot about the beauty of life’s abstraction, the importance of making art and culture accessible, the artist in question’s childhood and, maybe even your own experiences. 

Growing up in an area of Cambridgeshire he describes as ‘the middle of nowhere,’ Jack Warne’s childhood is timestamped by spells of blindness. Caused by a rare, hereditary disease called Thiel–Behnke dystrophy, his experience of the condition, and the way he interprets the world as a result of it, is as integral to the all-encompassing project as the name would suggest. 

Blind at The Age of Four is the debut album from the producer and fine artist, but it’s more so a world that he’s been building since he moved to London. GAUNT not only creates crunchy, electronic textures in music, he also puts them into a painted, full collection of warping, physical and digital art that will be exhibited at 39 Gransden Avenue in Hackney throughout September and October.

Header video by Jack Warne


Words by Greg Stanley

Culy nad Leimy © D/ARTS
39 Gransden Avenue © D/ARTS

Using augmented reality filters within Instagram, the still imagery in his collection moves, abstracted further via the audience’s own smartphones, all whilst a rendition of the music from the album plays. ‘As someone who has had their own genetic coding abstracted by a physiological glitch, my paintings and music have that quality as well,’ Jack tells us via webcam, dressed casually in a baseball cap as opposed to the full-armour suit that represents him publicly. 

On Blind at The Age of Four he lets his guard down. His use of various means results in not only an incredibly ambitious, enormous amount of work, but also a well-rounded, immersive experience. Sound and visuals work together as one, or as individual entities from which listeners or viewers can decipher their own meaning and feeling.  

‘I don’t want this project to expose myself too much in that it’s “all about Jack,” because it’s not,’ he says, evidently excited to be on the brink of sharing such a huge amount of work. 

‘Because of the noise and the distortion, the project is more abstract, so I hope people can interpret it more in their own way, or place themselves within it. That accessibility is fundamental to the project and that level of abstraction is fundamental to life, for me.’ 

‘It’s nice to live life with some mystery, you want the noise, you want the journey of working out what it means..’

Ulcy Rptresnse Het Flim © D/ARTS

So some people might know you as GAUNT, some might know you as Jack or the guy inside the armoured suit. But how would you describe yourself? 

In very black-and-white terms, I’d describe myself as a multi-disciplinary artist. My background is embedded in this idea of, ‘what is audiovisual?’ I’m interested in both audio and visual arts and the balance between the two. I’m interested in how they are able to display emotion but also what each approach lacks.  

What are all the beautiful and horrible combinations of the two and where do I fit within that?  

What’s one of the similarities between working with visuals and music, and how do you personally see them combining? 

With music, there is a beginning and an end and all the arcs in between. I see static images the same way. There’s an edge to a picture, a hierarchy of space, colour, and form, so I’ve tried to look at still imagery as a time-based medium, too. 

The gallery show is the physical embodiment of the album. All the ideas, all the images, they all relate to the album. You can interpret them or talk about them, and just feel your way through as an audience. To me, it’s a body of work. It could travel to different countries, it doesn’t have to be in London and it doesn’t have to be the same paintings or the same rendition of the album. It’s a flowing collection of work for which the catalyst was my childhood experience.

39 Gransden Avenue © D/ARTS

The name Blind at The Age of Four relates to that childhood experience of having Thiel-Behnke corneal dystrophy – a rare, hereditary condition that causes a loss of sight. How has your experience with the disease informed your relationship with music? 

It’s called Blind at The Age of Four, very explicitly because at that age, I was going through experiences of going in and out of blindness due to the disease. My Dad also went through the same thing as a child and he passed it down to me. The age of four is significant, around that age is the proposed moment in a child’s life when they start to recall memories. So it’s a statement about me recalling these memories as my first memories. 

The memory of me listening to Pink Floyd was in this moment of me being blind. It was so traumatic as a child. It’s very painful, you can’t see. I remember laying in my Dad’s bed, wanting to be comforted. He was going to work and trying to figure out how to comfort me in that moment. 

He thought to put a record on, to play me some music. And by the age of 7 or 8, he played Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon. It was the first piece of music I heard in long form, the first album I remember listening to. I was in a horrible place, my vision was completely black, but I remember being able to be calmed down. I had this full cathartic response.  

A few days later when I got better and my vision came back, I wanted to know what it was and asked my Dad about it. It was the first concrete moment where I was like, ‘What is that music? I want to research it.’  

It’s obviously a very famous, world-renowned album, but there is something about it that can absorb you, it’s so immersive, so rich and so beautiful in its transitions. Songs juxtapose each other but flow. It’s remarkable – and at that age, it really comforted me.

Header video by Jack Warne

Having been absorbing musical influences from an early age, when did you officially start work on your own album and the project that would eventually become Blind at The Age of Four?  

When I was at the RCA (Royal College of Arts), I was learning about painting and trying to become a painter, really. I sort of ran out of money and my friends were like, ‘Well, you use a computer all the time, why don’t you figure this out using a computer?’ And I was like, well I’m broke right now, I can’t afford paint, that would save me a lot of money.  

At the same time I got tasked with an idea by a record label I used to work with, they asked me ‘why don’t you write an album?’ I’d been a DJ and they asked me to consider what an album would be like by me, what would the process mean to me? And I started by making the album artwork as a digital painting. 

The ironic thing is, the building where I worked on these was this big, stark, commercial building that RCA have in White City (West London), where the lights were completely controlled by a company in Germany. So we’re in this building and we had no control over the lights, and so with my eyes being so sensitive due to having this disease, I was incredibly anxious about it. There was nothing in this big blank office space, and so at times, all I could see was these trickles in my eyes, these eye floaters – and that became the idea for the layered images that I made for the project.

39 Gransden Avenue © D/ARTS

And how about the music elements? When did they start taking shape? 

During Covid lockdowns, I found myself with a bit more time and I started making these soundscapes and painting compositions, without a plan of what to do with them. They lived on an external hard drive but I always knew I wanted to use them, I just wasn’t sure what for.  

On loads of occasions, I was so close to just chucking the album on Bandcamp or just leaking it. Even my friends were asking, are you ever going to drop this album? You start to think whether or not you should just move on and just get rid of it. But I’m so glad I sat on it for so long.  

It’s mad. It started off as an album cover and it’s become like the biggest album cover ever.  

An album cover you can not only stare at, but also listen to, walk up to, or animate using Augmented Reality filters. By simply having so many ways to interact with the project, you make your work broadly accessible. Is this aspect important to you? 

Accessibility is fundamental to it. I love public spaces. The goal for me is not to be rich. I want to be comfortable and not suffer as an artist, but I want people to feel my art, so being able to access it is really important. 

There is, in England, especially, this inherent class system and feeling that art is for the affluent. And funnily enough, the idea is that it’s the rich who are able to buy art and collect it. For me, it’s always about the expressions and the mediums that express different things. 

The paintings in this project have value on their own. They express things as a painting, but also even just as an object. And then there’s the AR on top and the sound that comes with them, too. They make sense as a cohesive thing, but they also work independently. It’s nice as an artist to be able to pick and choose.

Left: Lily Easrts ta Teh Lock / Right: Nnnoa Thrgouh Teh Dowinw © D/ARTS

Do you think the arts and creative industries are doing enough to make culture accessible for more visually impaired and neurodivergent artists and consumers? 

I can only speak to my own experiences, but I think arts and culture reflect a lot of the conventions of our Western society in that we are ocular-centric, we use our eyes the most – so some parts of it come down to senses. In arts and culture though, we are one industry that should be the most empathetic to those who aren’t the standard – we should be leading the way in terms of accessibility for other industries. 

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of noise up there in boardrooms where they need to hit financial targets that make it hard for younger artists or those that are up and coming to break through into those upper echelons. It’s the same with any market system or any consumption industry. 

I see artists as educators in that way. It’s about communication and telling people what it’s like to live in this moment at this time, and hopefully, this project can inspire other visually impaired or neurodivergent artists to step up. 

This project was supported by Arts Council England which has been vital for me as an emerging artist. Public funding plays an essential role as it provides artists with the financial support to incorporate accessibility provisions which can often be quite costly. On a number of the billboards we printed ‘Alt Text / Image Descriptions’ next to the works so that they were accessible to the visually impaired. I believe it might be the first time that an artist has done this on public art. We also used the guide dog yellow for the QR codes designs – subtle elements that not everyone might notice but which were conscious design choices and played into the creativity of the project.

Using AR with the billboards will also be another way to engage with the project, how does it feel to have your work plastered over London? 

To have the work all over London is really exciting and I can’t wait to see it myself. It’s one of the things I’m excited about the most because it’s a new medium for me. I have seen my work in a gallery space, but I don’t know how these billboards are going to work.  

In a way, there are two exhibitions happening. There’s the one in the art gallery, and there’s one in the streets with these billboards.

Blind at The Age of Four private view © D/ARTS

It’s likely that many people reading this have not ever attended an exhibition quite like yours, so what advice would you have for anyone rocking up to Unit 6, 39 Gransden Avenue? How do we make the most of it? 

Experience it through all your senses. Not in a lame way, it’s not one of these hyperactive, really theatrical shows, in that sense. But more on a concrete level, notice your body, the textures and all the subtleties of the everyday. Everyday things that are just materials in the street or textures from your childhood home, really focus on the micro details. These are things I’m trying to do in my everyday life. Be present. Whatever comes to your mind, go with it. That idea of being present I think is so crucial in this landscape of technology and phones. 

For the blind and visually impaired, there are headphones and guides to follow. Essentially a pathway that we creatively made to fit with the show, a tactile way for someone who is blind to navigate through the work and the space, just as I did through my own childhood home.

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