Sunderland student turns disability to her advantage
Kathryn Barnett graduated this week from The University of Sunderland with a first class degree in fine art.
Six years ago the 45-year-old had little confidence in herself or ability, whilst living with rheumatoid arthritis and raising her two children.
But, life changed forever after attending day classes run by an artists’ group at a community centre and gaining her degree is a dream come true.
Kathryn said: "This is a fairytale for me, I’d been a stay-at-home mam since leaving work 20 years ago and art was just a hobby I did now and again, with no aspirations. I would never have dreamt of calling myself a proper artist, as I do now.
“I actually thought I’d come out of this painting watercolours for people. But, I have grown in knowledge and confidence, so much so, I hardly recognise myself and have developed new skills in everything from print-making techniques to digital art. Certainly what started as a pastime has actually become a viable job opportunity.”
Not only has Kathryn successfully submitted work for independent exhibitions over the course of her degree, but she recently received national attention when her final year project work was celebrated in a national art magazine.
Her degree exhibition, reflected the burden of serious illness on close family members, a subject close to her heart and featured large scale pieces, including a bold digital print and spherical structure, suspended in a sling to be viewed from all sides.
Kathryn, from Durham, said: "Drawing on my own experiences with rheumatoid arthritis, as well as three family members affected by cancer, my work was a reaction to all the illness we faced as a family and the issues associated with a diagnosis.
“The subject is chronic illness and disability, people tend to steer away from this subject, but I want to ensure art about disability becomes more mainstream. My work is all about raising questions, I’m proud of what I’ve created, and confident to talk about my subject matter.
“I’m glad I did the degree part-time over six years, with rheumatoid arthritis you get very tired, and I’d work around the times I had the energy, which could be at 4am.
"As the bones in my wrists are fused and I can’t straighten my elbows, for my large-scale artwork I also enlisted the help of my husband, who is now my carer. He has been very supportive, and has helped me to put some of my pieces together.”
Kathryn admits the journey to succeed has been a struggle both physically and mentally, but that is not going to stop her studying for her masters degree and then a PhD.