‘Art saved me, I thought I had lost it forever’

Local artist Corrienne Strong, of Sherwood Avenue in Layton, whose illness has meant that she can now only create works of art using an app on her phone.'Corienne shows partner Clive Warburton a new creation.  PIC BY ROB LOCK'5-3-2014

Local artist Corrienne Strong, of Sherwood Avenue in Layton, whose illness has meant that she can now only create works of art using an app on her phone.'Corienne shows partner Clive Warburton a new creation. PIC BY ROB LOCK'5-3-2014

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From a settee in the living room of a terraced house in Layton, Corrienne Strong has spent the last 18 months producing some astonishing artwork.

Astonishing because it is all done on a mobile phone.

Local artist Corrienne Strong, of Sherwood Avenue in Layton, whose illness has meant that she can now only create works of art using an app on her phone.'An example of Corienne's work.  PIC BY ROB LOCK'5-3-2014

Local artist Corrienne Strong, of Sherwood Avenue in Layton, whose illness has meant that she can now only create works of art using an app on her phone.'An example of Corienne's work. PIC BY ROB LOCK'5-3-2014

And astonishing because of what she has been through.

The 49-year-old’s world fell apart in 2012 when a devastating fire ripped through her family home and almost claimed the life of her son.

She doesn’t have to close her eyes to recall the moment. It is forever ingrained in her mind.

A group of kids were messing about in the park behind the family home, she says.

Local artist Corrienne Strong, of Sherwood Avenue in Layton, whose illness has meant that she can now only create works of art using an app on her phone.'An example of Corienne's work.  PIC BY ROB LOCK'5-3-2014

Local artist Corrienne Strong, of Sherwood Avenue in Layton, whose illness has meant that she can now only create works of art using an app on her phone.'An example of Corienne's work. PIC BY ROB LOCK'5-3-2014

They began filling milk bottles with petrol, setting them alight, and throwing them.

One hit the roof of a utility room at the back of the Strong’s house.

The roof was made of prefabricated plastic and the burning bottle crashed straight through.

Moments later there was an explosion - the tumble dryer, which was turned on, blew up - and flames ripped through the rest of the house.

Corrienne got out straightaway, so did two of her children, but a third, her son, was trapped in an upstairs bedroom.

“He couldn’t escape,” she said, struggling to talk about the moment, even though it is three years since the fire.

“I was screaming, we all were. But there was no way to get to him because the flames were so bad.”

Finally the firefighters reached her son and dragged him out. They performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and saved his life.

He had inhaled so much smoke that he lost his sight for two weeks. He still has problems with his vision now.

“At least he got out though,” says Corrienne. “I’m not sure I’d have been able to cope if he hadn’t.”

It was the last thing Corrienne needed.

She suffered a stroke in 2003 and her health has slowly deteriorated since.

She was diagnosed with ME and a low immune system means she is susceptible to illness. She has damage to the frontal lobes of the brain and optic neuritis on the right eye so her vision is permanently blurred.

She claims she has was abused by a previous partner.

One of her children suffered shocking injuries after being hit by a van. Another has anxiety attacks and suffers with mental health issues.

“Life has been hard for a long time, and the fire almost finished me off,” she said.

Thankfully this is a story with a happy ending.

Corrienne found something, or more accurately, someone, who has saved her.

Clive Warburton had been talking to Corrienne on Facebook. He had been a fan of the 49-year-old’s art, before illness made it impossible for her to continue painting.

After the fire, when Corrienne couldn’t bear to move back into the house that had almost claimed the life of her son, Clive suggested she could move in to his house in Layton.

“It was a massive thing because I was living in Dartford in Kent at the time and my children wanted to stay in the family home,” she said.

“But I just couldn’t stay. Every time I tried to sleep there I had terrible nightmares and I couldn’t bear it.

“My eldest daughter (24-year-old Lisa) told me I deserved a chance to have a happy future and told me to go for it.

“It was a huge step to take but I plucked up the courage and took up Clive’s offer.”

It wasn’t just the love and support of Clive that helped her through, it was the discovery that she could still produce art.

A talented painter before health problems forced her to stop, Clive discovered an app available to mobile users that allows people to ‘paint’ by running their finger over the phone screen.

Anyone can do it but you have to be an artist to create something special.

Spending anything from four hours to three days on a single work of art, Corrienne has spent the last 18 months completing paintings at an astonishing rate.

She says she has produced thousands. The lounge wall of Clive’s Sherwood Avenue house is covered in them.

It is almost a form of therapy.

“It has sort of saved me,” Corrienne admittted.

“Art was a massive part of my life before I got ill. I thought I’d lost it forever but by holding the phone very close to my eye I can create these amazing pieces of art, and the best part of it is you don’t have to clean up afterwards and wash your brushes!

“It helps me keep my spirits up through the day and it stops me form thinking because naturally I am missing my family being here. So this stops me wallowing in my own self-pity, like I had been doing.”

Corrienne is talking to me from the settee where she lays, covered by a blanket.

She is on benefits and doesn’t work. Some people might, I suggest, think she should be out working.

“I wish I could,” she answered. “I hate doing nothing.

“I was always a hands-on person. I was actually a builder, that was what I did before I got ill.

“I want to work and given a choice I would be. That’s the heart-breaking thing. It is always the ones who are disabled or genuinely incapacitated that would love to go back to work but I can’t see well, I can’t walk very far and I am permanently tired.

“My art is all I can do and that is why it is so important to me.”

Corrienne hopes to have an exhibition one day - “that’s the dream” - and has launched her own website, where her pictures are available to buy.