Personal Photography: An inspirational disabled artist living in Singapore
Singapore based Chelsea Fairclough is a very talented young artist – who also happens to be in a wheelchair….
“When you can’t hold a brush in your hands, mouth or feet – just use your wheels and dance!”
For most teenagers having a professional art exhibition, with paintings sought after by private and corporate art collectors, under their belt at 14 years of age would be a remarkable feat. For Chelsea, every day is remarkable, every day is a challenge and every day is a miracle. Chelsea was born with a mass in her neck that meant that she spent a considerable amount of time in hospital, but despite all this she had a “normal” childhood. She travelled back to the UK to visit family there and she attended school in Singapore. She was a strong student, a great swimmer and she loved dance and music. But in 2007, after a period of declining strength and stamina, she suffered a massive stroke resulting in another extended stay in hospital. She had strokes before and bounced back after time and extensive physiotherapy. This one was different. She didn’t regain the use of her legs, in fact she was paralyzed from the neck down and unable to breath for herself. She needed a tracheotomy and the realization that she would be wheel chair bound for the rest of her life began to set in. It was an extremely difficult time for the whole family.
The school community at Singapore American School have been amazing and a particularly dedicated art teacher Ms. Mac was not willing to give up on Chelsea’s artistic talents. She developed an art program just for her and they have weekly appointments to create art by music. Chelsea picks the music, the paint colors and, in a typical bossy teenage kind of way, directs exactly where they should go!
I wanted to document the process so that you can see just how much goes into every canvas that she produces.
There is so much to tell about this remarkable teenager – please leave her some love on her blog – Paintability.org
The music selection needs to be just right and reflects Chelsea’s moods and interests. She is a movie fanatic and will watch a favorite over and over again.
Her wheelchair is controlled by the cork ball – she nudges it with her chin and gains just a tiny bit of very important personal freedom.
Pat, her helper, guides her to achieve the results that Chelsea has determined.
The wheelchair is very responsive to small movements so it is sometimes difficult to maintain a straight course, but boy she can move in that thing!
The finished canvas is left to dry overnight and the floor bears the evidence of the evenings activities. They have a deal that the first class of the day are the first to critique each new canvas and marvel over the paint on the floor!!!
Ms. Mac and her daughter Lilly are Chelsea’s biggest fans and supporters.
After the painting session is over Chelsea zips around the empty high school and checks out the news posted in the hallways. She is comfortable there and the other students are used to having her in class, but the normally crowded hallways make it difficult for her to speed. The teachers have grown wise to her ways and know that she pretends to be asleep when she doesn’t want to participate in class!
After school there was one more activity for Chelsea. A young artist named Gelyn Ong had an art exhibitiion at the Red Sea Gallery. Gelyn was raising money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and had supported Chelsea at her own exhibition. If you look at the Make-A-Wish Singapore homepage you will see that they love Chelsea’s story!
One of the Make-A-Wish Singapore staff members. And below Chelsea poses with Gelyn Ong. A quiet, polite and extremely gifted young artist from Singapore. This was her second exhibition and each time she has donated to the Make-A-Wish foundation.
All that time in her chair is exhausting for Chelsea and at the end of the night she wants nothing more than to get comfortable in her bed and read. With someone to turn the page for her of course!