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Last Updated: Saturday, 16 October, 2004, 23:25 GMT 00:25 UK
Cancer patient's artistic escape
By Melissa Jackson
BBC News Online health staff

Gary Bunt painting
Gary's paintings sell for more than 500
A professional musician who beat alcohol and drug addiction only to find he had cancer, has found painting the best way to escape from his "torment".

Gary Bunt, 46, is now a recognised artist whose pieces sell for upwards of 500.

But he is not confining his talents to painting for profit.

He is helping other cancer patients benefit from art therapy by teaching them how painting can become part of their recovery process.

Gary, 46, has always had an artistic flair, but his love of music had a more powerful influence, luring him into a career as a professional guitarist.

It brought him a rock and roll lifestyle, but one that led him along a path to self destruction.

He was soon indulging in all the trappings of the music business, both good and bad.

He said: "I loved the life, everything about it.

"Playing guitar and drinking and drugs and the fun that went with it."

He stopped playing guitar professionally when he hit 30 and realised he was out of control.

"I stopped playing to get away from all the drink and drugs," he said candidly.

Mental breakdown

At his peak, he was knocking back about 15 pints a day.

Combine this with 20 cigarettes a night while playing gigs - on top of those he had smoked during the day - and encounters with marijuana, cocaine and speed and it is easy to see how his life was spinning out of control.

When he tried to give up, he had a "complete mental breakdown".

His doctor put him in touch with a hypnotist, who over the course of two years, weaned him off the demon drugs and alcohol.

I found when I was painting I wouldn't think about anything else and that was how it helped me get through the cancer
Gary Bunt, artist
He has been clean for about 16 years, but continued to smoke, thinking it was less destructive.

However, it is the most likely cause of cancer of the vocal chords that was diagnosed three years ago.

By the time he saw a specialist, the cancer had spread to his lymph glands, which meant major surgery and a course of radio and chemotherapy.

He said: "They cut from the back of my neck, round the back of my ear and down to my chin, past my jugular vein, down the side of my neck and down to my shoulder.

"All the lymph glands were removed on the right hand side."

This was his wake-up call.

The smoking was abandoned and he re-discovered art "big time".

"I decided I wanted to do painting full time," he said.

He had turned to art for "therapeutic" reasons after he came off the drugs and booze, but now he was really involved.

He said: "I found when I was painting I wouldn't think about anything else and that was how it helped me get through the cancer."

Art workshops

His enthusiasm was so strong that he decided to risk everything, giving up the picture framing business he had established after quitting music, to turn to art as a full time occupation.

It paid off and he now has art dealer Nick Bowlby, a descendant of London's Tate Gallery founder Sir Henry Tate, promoting his work.

Gary said his earlier work was "safe", figurative painting for the commercial market, of, for example, scenes of Paris and Venice.

But he has since branched out and become more expressive, following in the style of one of his favourite artists, LS Lowry, and channelling his life experiences into his paintbrush.

Gary Bunt painting
He said: "Cancer gave me the freedom to break out of the mould and paint what I wanted to paint, rather than being dictated to by what people were buying.

"I am now doing exclusively my own style. It all comes from my emotions.

"When I got cancer, it dawned on me that 'it doesn't matter any more'.

"I lost all those tormented feelings I'd had before - when I was drinking - and I could be free.

"I'm making a living from my painting and it has gone beyond my wildest dreams."

While Gary was receiving cancer treatment, he met a counsellor at his local hospital in Maidstone, Kent, who was organising weekend art and creative writing workshops for cancer patients.

She asked Gary to help out and for the last couple of years he has been taking art workshops for cancer patients at the hospital.

Gary, who has been free of cancer for three years, says he can see how beneficial the classes are to the patients.

He said: "They all say that while they're painting they're not thinking about the cancer and my thinking is that the less energy I waste thinking about cancer the more energy I can use staying alive."

About 40 of Gary's new-style paintings will go on display at the Affordable Art Fair at London's Battersea Park from 21-24 October.

How art can ease a troubled mind
24 Jul 04  |  Health
Aiding recovery with art therapy
16 Feb 03  |  Health

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