Aberdeenshire artist paints her way through cancer journey

Alison Chandler painted her work over a one year period.

An artist who painted her way through chemotherapy has launched an exhibition of art work which tells the story of her cancer battle, stage by stage.

The Way Through Project opened in Aberdeen Arts Centre last week, showcasing Alison Chandler’s inspiring and moving pen drawings and acrylics – among other art work.

Alison, 60, from Johnshaven, started creating almost two years ago when she found out she suffered from cancer of the appendix.

Doctors also detected a blood spot on her liver and diagnosed her with a bowel tumour and diverticulitis, a digestive disease which inflames parts of the bowel.

All the way through her fight against cancer, the painter used art to express her feelings, occupy herself and try to escape from a reality sometimes too full of worries.

Alison introduced her own motifs to express themes.

And she hopes her art will inspire debate about what patients are experiencing, as well as helping others on the same journey through their battle.

She said: “This exhibition is absolutely about solidarity with humanity.

“I am very nervous of ever sounding as if I am the only person who ever had cancer.

“But if my paintings can help others feel like they can get through this and will have happy days, then it makes it all worthwhile.”

During her journey, Alison painted at least one picture every few days, creating a timeline of her battle against the illness.

Within the art collection, which features 69 paintings, Alison used apples, representing her core, as well as wolves, which symbolize her fears.

She said: “I don’t have religious faith so I had to create my own iconography, that I can look at and remember what makes me feel strong. For example I’m scared of dogs, so in my pictures, wolves are fear.”

Discussing “Building the Apple Core” – one of the first paintings – she explained: “This picture is a response to all of those wonderful people who supported me, and it’s saying, ‘you guys built my core, you built my strength’.

“I don’t think this is just about illness either, it’s about your way through life and we find our way through life with the support of other people.”

As she walks through her exhibition, revisiting the memories of her journey through cancer, she reaches the artwork she created in February 2017 and looks to a group of 13 paintings.

A collection of works entitled ‘The Suitcase’ by Alison.

These particular paintings were created at a rate of one a day during her first round of chemotherapy, after undergoing emergency surgery left her with a large abdominal wound.

“Here we get to middle of February, when my wound was healed enough for me to start chemo,” she said.

“But of course we still did not know whether my body was going to cope with it, so this was my way of focusing on taking one day at a time.”

Between February and May 2017, Alison used more and more different symbols in her art, including the use of boxes in her art.

Explaining how important her watercolour and ink painting “Box” is, she said: “This was me realising that however much all my friends and my family do for me and care about me, they can’t be in the experience with me.

“It was a very lonely and isolating experience, because nobody can be in it with you, it’s like being stuck in a little box.”

As her chemo continued, the artist felt like she was “stuck in a limbo state” between May and October .

However, Alison was coping with chemotherapy well and slowly getting stronger.

Alison used wolves in both the background and forefront of her work as time progressed and in one piece of work titled “Reclaiming the Cloak”, it is a prominent feature.

She said: “I think ‘Reclaiming the Cloak’ is the first of those pictures where I’m actually really comfortable with the wolf.

“It’s about conquering fear.”

And in October, everything changed for Alison. The doctors decided to take her out of chemotherapy for a while, and she discovered she might be well enough for an operation just after Christmas.

Turning to the last picture of the exhibition, “Looking the Wolf in the Eye” she explained: “When I did this picture I was happy I had no more chemo for a while, it was like a holiday with a lot of hope at the end of it.

“I went for a walk on that beautiful day, and I finally felt strong enough to look the wolf in the eye.”

The artist then travelled to Basingstoke where her operation was meant to take place.

She explained: “They keep scanning me and keeping an eye on me and it turns out I still haven’t needed an operation.”

Alison’s exhibition will run until March 30 in the city before going on tour at venues across Eastern Scotland until July. She said: “This is about saying that even when you see a really bad path ahead of you, there will be happy days.”