Artist Aislinn Knight on how life threatening surgery took her on an incredible creative journey

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In August 2012, Aberystwyth-based artist Aislinn Knight was given the devastating diagnosis that she had kidney cancer and would need life-threatening surgery to remove the tumour.

With six weeks to prepare for the operation she felt utterly lost and terrified at the prospect of going under the knife.

Aislinn Knight

But during those anxious weeks she sought solace in her surroundings and the result is a breathtaking collection of landscape paintings now on show in the Morlan Centre in Aberystwyth.

She told me: “I escaped my fear and pain by walking and exploring the local landscape, making sketches and taking photographs while immersed and connected emotionally to what I saw and felt.

“This process enabled a response through the medium of paint to create an image that captures and interprets the visual references and feelings I experienced. 

“I had found a portal through creativity into a wonderful pain and worry free world in my studio for those first few weeks.”

As the date of her operation loomed nearer, Aislinn found a sense of spiritual resolution and learned to topple her fear of death, penning a poem called Annwn or Otherworld which describes her feelings during the painting process as she looked at a group of trees in the mist and felt an eerie sense of conclusion.

Having never painted landscapes before or since, Aislinn feels this collection of paintings acts as her own epiphany and is a modern take on a book of hours, with all the paintings falling into a pattern of either four seasons or six days, with Sunday excluded as a day of rest. 

Now recovered from her operation, Aislinn is having six-monthly scans to see if the cancer has returned and describes it as like “living on a knife’s edge”.

Mid Wales 4. Image courtesy of Aislinn Knight.

She told me: “The exhibition is a testament to that creative journey and how I escaped from my pain and fear in scenery I knew from memory or I walked to during those dark weeks. In that creative space everything else disappeared.

“My favourite painting from the collection is Number 2 where the landscape is very stormy and red and I remember my actual tears merging with the paint as I was creating it.

“Here I am in the here and now discovering and recognising that this is the most exciting and most fulfilling time of my life.” 

The solo exhibition at the Morlan Centre is only Aislinn’s second as she has turned to art as a career relatively late in life.

Born into a working class home in the 1950s, a career in the arts seemed an unattainable dream and Aislinn was persuaded by her parents to become a secretary.

She moved to Aberystwyth from the Midlands in 1983, finding general office work to support herself, and practicing art in her spare time.

But in the late 90s she went on to study a BA in Fine Art at the University of Wales Aberystwyth, graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in 2000. The next seven years were spent working to fund a part time Masters degree in Fine Art, which she completed in 2007. 

Four Seasons Series no 2. Image courtesy of Aislinn Knight.

As she approaches retirement she is now able to spend more time in her studio creating art.

She said: “I hope I can be inspirational for ladies of my age, who, like me could only dream of a lifestyle that allowed a woman to make a living from something that they actually enjoyed doing, in my case painting.

“It’s wonderful that after admiring so many local artists for so long, I now feel part of the community and people are responding to my work.”

Aislinn’s paintings are on show at the Morlan Centre until 7 February 2014.

For more information on her work visit Aislinn’s website

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