FOR most 11-year-olds, the most prominent display of their artwork is most likely to be on the fridge at home.
But Penicuik’s Joshua Russell-Douglas has managed to achieve something older and far more established artists can only dream of – having his art on show at the prestigious Saatchi Gallery in London.
Joshua volunteered to paint a picture for the Child Brain Injury Trust to show what life was like with an acquired brain injury, and explain the difficulties he has in processing information at the same speed as other children. His own injury came about after he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia at the age of three, and as part of his three-and-a-half-year high-dose chemotherapy regime, methotrexate was put into his spine and directly accessed his central nervous system.
After this treatment a neuropsychologist found that he had an acquired brain injury and referred the family to the Child Brain Injury Trust.
Joshua’s mum, 36-year-old author Sally, said that he never hesitated to take part in the project.
She said the CBIT has done “so much for him, and if he can help raise awareness for how life is for kids like him, to let others see this invisible disability, then he is more than happy to oblige”.
She was also very welcoming of the project, saying she thought it was “a lovely idea,” and a great opportunity for the children to express the difficulties they have with their disability.
Sally says her son is, at first glance, like any other child, but his lack of social contact during his treatment and the brain injury, which slows his responses and alters his perception of situations, have left him having difficulty in keeping up with his peers.
That said, she describes him as “a tenacious, determined young man who, when he puts his mind to something, doesn’t stop until he achieves it” and who loves art, probably as there is no right and wrong and he can be “expressive and free”.
As for why he chose a maze for the project, she explains: “It’s like the question is at the front of his mind but all the answers are at the back, and it’s not that he doesn’t want to answer, it’s just that the answer takes an awful long time to travel from the back to the front. To him all the information gets muddled in his mind and he is constantly scrambling trying to find the right piece.”
The exhibition highlights the eight areas of difficulty that can affect children with this kind of injury, and the paintings have proved extremely popular, so much so that it is now on display in the gallery’s Education Room.
Francesca Wilson, head of education at the gallery, describes the paintings as “extremely moving”, and adds: “We’ve had many school groups and visitors see the paintings and comment on how powerful they are. The visual expressions of the challenges faced daily by the children give the art works true originality and integrity.”
Also helping Joshua is his eight-year-old sister, Mabel, who Sally says is “amazing” with him and gives him the extra time he needs to answer questions. Mabel has created her own artwork which also hangs in the Saatchi, in tribute to her brother.
Sally says: “She makes him feel so happy when things with others get too hard. She was really excited about painting something to show the world that children like Joshua shouldn’t hate themselves for being different, because she thinks they are awesome just the way they are.”