Bekki's show of strength

PUBLISHED: 15:53 20 December 2010 | UPDATED: 16:12 20 February 2013

Bekki at the exhibition launch with her family.

Bekki at the exhibition launch with her family.

A schoolgirl artist is illustrating how talent and drive can overcome adversity. By Antonia Ash<br/>PICTURES BY SHAUN THOMPSON

A schoolgirl artist is illustrating how talent and drive can overcome adversity. By Antonia Ash

PICTURES BY SHAUN THOMPSON

Bekki Steele has just staged her first solo art exhibition at the age of 17. Quite an achievement when added to her recent win in the Tate/Times Painting Challenge, having a picture shown at Tate Modern and helping brighten up her home town with her work. But the success is even sweeter given Bekki's battle for most of her young life with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which was diagnosed last year.

Bekki, a student at John Kyrle High School in Ross-on-Wye, turned to painting to pass the time during her illness which started after she contracted glandular fever at the age of eight.

Bekki, who lives in Weston-under-Penyard, with her mother, Annette Steele, a parish council clerk and 15- year-old brother Shaun held her first show at Hereford Cider Museum over the summer after her work was spotted by Ross Youth Centre staff who asked her to help paint a series of murals and by Ross In Bloom committee who commissioned her to work alongside professional artist Tom Cousins, to design and paint a mural for a 280ft fence in the town centre.

Bekki said: "I can find day-to-day life very difficult, because I suffer with extreme tiredness, and I'm very susceptible to illness. I had to stay off school for most of my AS level course, meaning I had spare time on my hands. When I won the Tate-Times art competition I was really bitten by the art bug and it was fantastic when the Cider Museum in Hereford, gave me an enormous gallery space to fill with as many paintings and drawings as possible."

The offer also posed a problem as Bekki had to raise more than £2,000 to pay for her 40-plus pictures to be framed. "I contacted local businesses to see if I could raise the money by means of sponsorship, and the response was fantastic. Considering the current economic climate isn't great, I was shocked when I managed to raise all of money in a matter of weeks." The exhibition was launched at a celebration evening in July and ran for four weeks.

Bekki's grandparents, Rosemary and David Oddy who live in Ross-on-Wye, are watercolour artists and introduced her to painting at a young age, but it wasn't until her GCSEs that she realised she had a talent for art herself .

"Painting the youth centre mural was tiring, as I struggle to concentrate for long periods of time, but with help from a friend from school, Mandy, and regular breaks, it was completed."

Bekki is adamant her illness will not hold her back, and wants to encourage other CFS sufferers. "I find the key is to not make impossible schedules, I'm realistic about what I can achieve, and never afraid to admit I need time off."

After A level she hopes to study Illustration at Cardiff University. She has now been commissioned to paint a mural of the river and church in Ross-on-Wye.

"I want to show other CFS sufferers that having the illness doesn't mean you can't still carry on doing what you want to do. If you pace yourself, and keep trying, then you can still fulfil your dreams," she said.

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