A Birchington man who was forced to give up a high-flying career after having a stroke is using his love of art to help rebuild his life.
Peter Rushton had to overcome the fact that his right hand – which he uses to paint with – was initially paralysed by the stroke. Now a collection of his work – the first since his stroke – will go on display at Margate’s Lombard Street Gallery from January 3-8, 2020.
Peter was head of corporate communications at a major bank in Bahrain in the Middle East when a stroke turned his life upside down five years ago. The stroke came after a chain of events triggered by a simple insect bite while he was playing with his son Digby, then aged 11.
He had a severe allergic reaction to the bite and was given an adrenaline shot to treat it, even though doctors knew he had high blood pressure.
The 62-year-old said: “That night I suffered a stroke in my sleep but neither my wife Julia nor I realised until the morning when our son came in to see how I was after the insect bite and he noticed that my face was drooping and I couldn’t speak or move my right arm or walk.
“In hospital it was confirmed through an MRI scan that I had an ischaemic stroke – caused by a blood clot – on my left side of the brain affecting my speech, my right hand and arm was paralysed and my right leg was weak.
“I was devastated by a number of things, the first being that my young son was the one who discovered that I’d had a stroke. The second was that I was head of corporate communications at a bank and suddenly overnight I couldn’t even communicate my own name.
“And the third was that I was an artist and I couldn’t even pick up a paint brush, let alone paint. It absolutely rocked our world.”
Four years after Peter’s stroke the family returned to England to live in Birchington, Julia’s original home. Although Peter, who is from Swansea, is unable to return to his former profession he has turned to art as both a therapy and a source of income.
He said: “I have been an artist for almost 40 years, with my main medium being oil and acrylics on canvas and painting with my right hand. After my stroke, my right hand was paralysed and I still have difficulty in holding a brush as I used to.
“My creative side of the brain, however, was intact so initially I started to paint with my left hand after my stroke, whilst I was working on my painting again with my right hand through physio, determination, persistence, and a lot of pain – both mentally and physically.
“I was determined to get back to painting with my right hand as soon as possible and over the months and years following my stroke I have, to a degree.
“I went to art school were I studied illustration and air brush which is a very tight and precise style of painting – almost photographic. Over the years I have explored a more contemporary approach to capture my subjects that can vary from lifestyle to inspirational. Therefore my artistic talents and subjects are incredibly broad.
“I find painting very therapeutic, unfortunately it’s a constant reminder to where my talent used to be and where I am now – pre and post stroke. Whilst this can be frustrating it is an outlet that allows me to communicate how I feel.
“I’ve held exhibitions and sold a number of paintings plus had commissions. My ambition is to have a major art exhibition in London, showing that there is life after stroke and if you set your mind to it you can achieve anything.
“I’m delighted to be exhibiting at the Lombard Street Gallery in Margate where both pre and post stroke works will be on display.
“Whilst stroke can affect you physically, which is very hard to deal with, it’s the invisible disabilities that are the hardest – not being able to communicate as I still have difficulty with speech, not being able to do the simple things like tying a shoelace, and developing serious anxiety and depression.
“The Stroke Association has been an amazing source of comfort for both my wife and me, providing information that has guided us through the stroke survivor and carer journey.”
Peter’s exhibition, Rhythm of Life, is at the Lombard Street Gallery, Old Town, Margate, from Friday, January 3 to Wednesday, January 8, 9am to 5pm. Rhythm of life focuses on the relationship between man and woman, the development of cities, people, noise, beauty and the consequences this all has on mother nature.
You can also view Peter’s portfolio on his Instagram account @peter.rushton.artist
For more information about stroke and the support services for survivors and carers in Kent visit www.stroke.org.uk or call the Stroke Helpline on 0303 3033 100.