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Artist Turns Past Pain into Today's Inspiration

Artist Turns Past Pain into Today's Inspiration For Sick Children at Starship

His teachers told him he would be no good to anybody. But, yesterday (Wed Oct 27) at Auckland Starship Children's Hospital, world-renowned artist Mackenzie Thorpe did a power of good for sick children who needed some cheer in their lives.

(Photos by Doug Cole) Starship Hospital inspiration: Mackenzie Thorpe after a drawing session with patient Bronson Hoani, 9, and little brother Gracen.

Thorpe, from England, did what he has done all his adult life. He passed on his artistic understanding to a group of children who, despite their problems, were inspired to sit down at a table and draw their emotions as a picture on paper.

The intensity of concentration the children gave to drawing the most important person in their lives as an animal and Thorpe’s discussion with them of what their drawings meant brought a lump to the throat of many of the adults standing round.

"I always wished as a child that someone would come into my life and change it," Thorpe said.

"So now I try to give a little bit of that to others."

Thorpe was in Auckland to open his exhibition at Fishers Fine Arts Gallery in Parnell.

Wherever he goes, he works with children and gives some of the proceeds of his sales to a local charity, in this case, the Starship Foundation.

The Mackenzie Thorpe who, as a child was told he would never amount to anything, was named England's best-selling artist in 2000.

Yet his struggle with the learning disability dyslexia, which makes the brain see the written word as a jumble, nearly wrecked his life.

Born in 1956, Thorpe was the eldest of seven children in a struggling working class family in industrial Middlesbrough. He left school at the age of 15 with no qualifications but a deep love of art which he used to deal with the unhappiness in his life.

After he and his father were made redundant from their shipyard labouring jobs, Thorpe tried to commit suicide to save his parents from having too many mouths to feed.

He survived and, encouraged by a friend, went on to enter art school. The inspiration he gained there and, later, from his wife Susan gave him the will to succeed.

As an artist who paints and sculpts, Thorpe's images have become well-known: square sheep, duffle coated children, children with large heads, and images of people battling the odds in Middlesbrough. They express hope and despair and the powerful effect love can have on our lives.

His agent, Chase Group based in Chicago, describes him as a unique talent.

"Nobody connects the way Mackenzie does visually and emotionally," said Bob Chase who accompanied Thorpe to Auckland.

While in Auckland, Thorpe was filmed by Morningside Productions for a Television 3 documentary on dyslexia.

He said he still felt the pain and isolation of his childhood.

"Every time I go to work, I doubt myself every step of the way," he said.

His message to dyslexic people, both children and adults, was that they, like him, could develop their minds to compensate for their problems with the written word.

"We have a massive visual tool in our brains that other people don't," he said.

Thorpe has become one of the world's most collected artists. Recent commissions include a series of paintings for Sir Elton John's Aids Foundation, artwork for Princess Anne's Save the Children Fund and artwork for the 2002 Andre Agassi Grand Slam for Children fundraiser in Las Vegas.

Teeside University in Middlesbrough has given him an Honorary Degree of Fine Art in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the world of contemporary art.

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