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Loss of childhood to cancer inspires striking art

At first glance her playful paintings seem to portray childhood as a golden age of joyful innocence.

personal PAINTINGS: Ele Alba Erskine, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour aged nine, is helping to raise money for Barnado's. Picture: Gordon Terris
personal PAINTINGS: Ele Alba Erskine, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour aged nine, is helping to raise money for Barnado's. Picture: Gordon Terris

But up-and-coming young Edinburgh artist Ele Alba Erskine has revealed they are based on her devastating experience of being diagnosed with a brain tumour at the age of nine.

Now the artist, who left school at age 16 because she was bullied for "being different" and trained at Telford College and Leith College of Art, is to exhibit a selection of paintings to help raise funds for the Barnardo's children's charity.

One of these, titled Memories, in acrylic and collage, captures two young girls in their school playground. Both wear colourful gloves, hats and scarves, and are closely examining a soft toy animal.

"Seeing those two little girls absorbed in such an intense shared moment reminded me of when I was a normal kid, before I got ill and lost my entire childhood," she explained.

This painting, along with five others reminiscent of Joan Eardley's Glasgow street urchins, is included in the Barnardo's exhibition of 100 works by 30 established Scottish artists, including Alison Watt, Jack Morrocco, Damian Callan and Chris Bushe, which takes place in Edinburgh next weekend. The art curator, agent and courier Ali McAuley, civic partner of Ele's mother Roseanne, was quick to spot the young artist's potential and proposed her for the show. She describes her work as "totally magical".

Ele, 23, explains: "When I turned nine I was hit by cancer and it completely changed me. Before that I was a normal child enjoying life, then I was ill, alone and terrified.

"Now I'm partially deaf, I have facial palsy, my balance is not good, and I'm always going to be small. I remember myself before all that happened, and there's a feeling of loss.

"Painting is my way of exploring what happened to me, of both escaping it and of coming to terms with it.

"Art is my therapy. I feel happier now and more settled in myself. I'm more confident as a result.

"If I wasn't painting I don't know what I'd do. It's given me a sense of purpose."

Her mother Roseanne Erskine, an artist and sculptor, said: "Ele's been artistic all her life, even as a very young child.

"Ele means sunlight in Irish Gaelic, and Alba means sunrise in Italian. Quite simply, she is the light and the sunshine of my life."

l Barnardo's Art Show 2014 takes place at The Dundas Street Gallery, Edinburgh, from March 14 to 16. More details at www.barnardos.org.uk/barnardosartshow2014

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