Young artist's wheelchair is her paintbrush

Fourteen-year-old schoolgirl Chelsea Fairclough gets a helper to pour paint on a canvas, attach brushes to her wheelchair and turn on a catchy pop song.

She then "dances" in her custom-built vehicle by guiding it with her chin using a ball joystick and after 20 minutes creates a vivid and colourful blend of wheel imprints and brush-strokes.

Come Friday, Chelsea will be performing at the launch of visual arts exhibition Project Dreamcatchers 2013, which aims to create awareness about chronic childhood illnesses.

To be held at Sculpture Square in Middle Road and organised by the National University Hospital, it will feature installation artwork by 18 patients using medical items like syringes and drip bags.

Chelsea is paralysed from the chin down due to bleeding at the back of her head when she was eight and needs help with her daily routine. She whispers and breathes through a ventilator due to a chronic chest infection.

"I choose the song first as it influences the art in terms of the mood and colours I use," said the Singapore American School student, who was born in Singapore to British parents.

It was a difficult childhood for the young artist, who had undergone three surgeries by the time she was just 15 days old. She recovered to enjoy swimming and horse-riding before a more serious recurrence of the bleeding eight years later left her in intensive care for more than six months.

Her doctor spent another month teaching her eye movement communication - to prepare her for the worst-case scenario if she were left fully paralysed.

However, she retained the feel of her ears, nose and mouth and in August 2007, she went back to school in a wheelchair.

When she risked being the only student without an artwork at the school's annual exhibition, her art teacher convinced her to paint using her wheels. Her first work, a 20cm by 60cm painting done in 2009, still hangs in the family's living room.

Chelsea estimates that she has produced about 75 paintings since. Her first exhibition two years ago made her realise that people like her paintings for their artistic merit, not out of pity.

Her favourite work, titled Feather In Peace, was inspired by American country singer Carrie Underwood's track Change. "It's about how my chair changed my life and enabled me to move around again by myself," she said.

Chelsea has hobbies that one would expect of any teenage girl. A fan of the fantasy genre, she devoured the Twilight series but thought the first movie "sucked".

Her mum has suggested that she become an advocate for opportunities and accessibility for the disabled or people in wheelchairs. But Chelsea would only say she wants to do "something in the arts field".

VIDEOS TO WATCH

SERVICES