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Michele Angelo Petrone

About Michele Angelo Petrone (1963 - 2007)


Introduction

Michele Petrone was a professional artist who exhibited at the Royal Academy and the South Bank in London. His work is included in the BP Young Europeans Collection in Brussels and in public and private collections across the world. He received a Medal of Distinction from The Glogow Museum in Poland. In 2004 he won the Blair Sadler Award from the Society for the Arts in Healthcare in Washington DC, USA, for his ground-breaking work with people affected by cancer.

Michele was born in 1963 at Kingston-on-Thames, into an Italian family. He studied at Wimbledon College of Art; Sir John Cass Department of Art, Media and Design and at Chelsea College of Art and Design. He was on the executive committee of the National Artists' Association from 1991 to 1994 and worked as a designer with Thames Television; as an exhibitions' assistant with the Hayward Gallery and the Southbank Centre, and on projects with Westminster City Council arts department.

Learning about his illness

At the age of 30, Michele was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. He said that nothing had prepared him for the pain, difficulty and fear which followed this diagnosis or for the many years of treatment after periods of remission and relapse, which included high dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplantations.

As he lay in isolation in his hospital room, he used his skills to express the myriad of feelings engulfing him. The watercolours and gouaches, painted initially to decorate his hospital door, were the start of depicting the emotional events of his journey through illness and recovery. These paintings were subsequently shown at the Wigmore Hall in London, under the title Between Night and Day - Michele's metaphor for his journey. Over the years, Michele was to use his skills to express not only his own feelings but to help others find creative expression for their feelings about living with, or caring for people living with cancer.

Michele's work

His work first came to the attention of healthcare professionals in 1996 when he gave an extraordinary presentation of his paintings, with accompanying prose, at the CancerBACUP's 10th anniversary conference in Brighton. It moved many of his audience to tears.

As a result of this presentation, he was invited to exhibit his paintings at a number of Sussex venues in 1997, under the title The Emotional Cancer Journey, which was also published as a book.

The response to these exhibitions was dramatic and led to the work being used by health organisations and medical institutions across the UK and beyond.

A residency at St Peter and St James' Hospice, East Sussex, helped patients and carers to "colour their feelings" through paint. The resulting exhibition, Touching the Rainbow , was also published in book form in 1999. A year later he extended the work to health professionals across the UK. Moving Pictures gave them the chance to paint their feelings about caring for patients with life-threatening illness.

Legacy and recognition

Michele experienced at first hand the way in which cancer affects everyone - the patient, family, friends and healthcare professionals. As a result, in 2002 he set up The MAP Foundation, to promote expression, communication and understanding of the complex issues of serious illness and dying. Under MAP's auspices he gave workshops and presentations nationally and internationally, helping countless patients, their families, friends and those who care for them, to express through the arts their fears, hopes and emotions in the face of life-threatening illness.

He worked tirelessly, even when at times he was unwell, for a cause in which he passionately believed. His aim was that this work should inspire and support people in similarly frightening situations and enlighten and guide others to a different and better understanding. He contributed to a number of publications in the field of medical humanities.

Commenting on The Emotional Cancer Journey, Professor Mike Richards, National Cancer Director, said: "Michele Angelo Petrone's paintings of his cancer journey give a clear insight into the uncertainty, isolation and pain experienced by people with cancer. They also show the importance of the support and care which is given to cancer patients".

Michele's art work, especially The Emotional Cancer Journey , has received significant recognition from academics and those working in health promotion: see tributes from Professor Lesley Fallowfield and Margaret Felton .