North Norfolk painter’s encounter with God
Facing an 18-hour cancer operation and the end of a dream life in France, North Norfolk painter Nicholas Elliott had an “amazing” encounter with God in a London church.
Back in 2000, after too many years of a thoroughly stressful existence, Nicholas sold out of his marketing company in London to pursue a career in art. He rented out his flat and lived cheaply in India and Spain where he taught himself the rudiments of oil painting.
In 2008, following a successful exhibition in London’s Cork Street, Nicholas gained London Gallery representation and moved to Brittany in France where he transformed an old barn in the garden into a dream studio.
However, no sooner did he begin working in the studio than his dream turned into a nightmare when he was diagnosed with cancer of the jaw. He returned to the UK for treatment at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead which specialises in head and neck cancer surgery.
“Back in England I had a series of MRI scans and x-rays,” said Nicholas. “By which time the tumour had rapidly grown and become so aggressive it had actually broken through my cheek and I bled constantly in and outside my mouth, which I could now barely open. I was in great pain.”
An 18-hour operation by two teams of surgeons was planned to remove the tumour by taking away the entire left side of Nicholas’ jaw and cheek and reconstructing his face using titanium and parts of his right leg. There were so many things that could go wrong during the surgery that it took the consultant surgeon 45 minutes to go through the patient consent documentation.
“The week before my operation a dear friend and committed Christian, Charlotte Ashenden, phoned to ask if I could get to St Mary’s Church in Loughton that Sunday where she and others would pray for me. I was taking powerful pain-killers, but something told me I should go. I thought I had nothing to lose. Although I wasn’t a Christian I went to church as a kid and did believe in a God, a creator or a higher power, and hoped that the power of prayer might help.
“When I got to the church I waited at the back for Charlotte to arrive. There I was standing on my own with a large dressing on my face to cover the tumour in a very unfamiliar evangelical environment. I had no idea what to do. And then, at this moment of despair, I was engulfed by what I can only describe as the presence of Love in every sinew of my being, how long it lasted I have no idea – it was the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me and I have no doubt that it was God.
“My operation was a success and I believe that God was working with those wonderful surgeons,” said Nicholas. “It hasn’t all been a bed of roses since then. I had lost so much – my appearance therefore my identity, my home, my car and lots of money and some friends strangely enough – perhaps because my values have changed.
“I struggled with the psychological effects of life-changing cancer and subsequent reconstructive surgery and this stalled my work. I settled in North Norfolk for recuperation and convalescence, which I see as a God-given gift. My growing faith has strengthened my resolve and I have gradually begun to produce more and more paintings.
“My heightened awareness of my own mortality and increased appreciation of creation is what drives my work now,” he said. “Noticing things that perhaps I didn’t notice before and seeing something that I want others to see - be that in still life, landscape or floral subjects – this is my artistic goal. I am all the happier if I am able to inject beauty into a world with its fair share of troubles.”
Nicholas is now Vice President of the Institute of East Anglian Artists (IEA) and you can see his work, alongside that of four other artists, at an exhibition called: "The Salthouse Creative '22 - a Celebration of the Glory of God in Creation and Creativity. It takes place at Salthouse Church from April 18 to 23, 10am to 5pm, daily.
The images are courtesy of Nicholas Elliott.