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The Power of Art in Rehabilitation – An Evening with Dustine West

Dustine West, also known as @soloinkart, is an incredibly talented artist with a very unique style.  Dustine also has a spinal cord injury having been involved in a road traffic accident in 2011.  Following his accident Dustine turned to his love of art to support him through his rehabilitation and life beyond injury.

At the time of his accident Dustine was working as a police community support officer with the British Transport Police.  His accident happened as he was travelling home.  Although Dustine doesn’t remember the accident he was told that a young man was driving home from a night out, under the influence of alcohol and struck him from behind on an unlit stretch of motorway.  As a result of that accident Dustine sustained multiple injuries including his spinal cord injury.  Dustine is classified as an incomplete tetraplegic meaning both his legs and his right arm were affected.

Like many people who sustain a spinal cord injury Dustine spent several months in a spinal rehabilitation unit.  For him this was the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital and it was there that an Occupational Therapist encouraged Dustine to take up his pre-accident hobby of drawing.  Dustine has had to change his style to accommodate his injuries.  Not only was Dustine’s right arm affected as a result of his spinal cord injury Dustine also developed a condition post-accident called heterotopic ossification which caused his bones to grow excessively and further restricting his movement.  Dustine reverted to a style he had seen used when he was younger called ‘stippling’ which is a technique using a number of dots to create shadows and depth in a picture.  Dustine uses black ink on white paper to create dramatic and eye catching portraits.

Art as a therapeutic tool has gained a lot of recognition in recent years and for Dustine his art has been a form of therapy that has helped him adapt to life with a spinal cord injury.  For Dustine however his art has also become a way that he can show his appreciation; give back to those who have supported him and raise money for those charities that are close to his heart.

It was during the course of his rehabilitation journey that Dustine discovered the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) and the fantastic work they do to support people with spinal cord injury.  Dustine’s passion for this charity meant that he wanted to raise funds to support their ongoing work.  Dustine had the idea to have an art exhibition giving people an opportunity to see his art, learn about his journey and also learn about the SIA.  Dustine approached the Spinal Injury Team at Bolt Burdon Kemp about the possibility of having an exhibition of his artwork in our offices in Islington.  Of course we were incredibly keen and initially this was planned for May 2020.  We envisaged some drinks, some canapés and milling around the art and an opportunity to hear Dustine talk.  Of course that soon became impossible due to the pandemic and although we waited a while to see if things would change, when it became clear that ‘in person’ events weren’t going to return to normal any time soon we thought about how we could turn that same event into an online event.

We came up with the idea of ‘Meeting the Artist’.  A virtual art exhibition showcasing a number of Dustine’s pieces of artwork that had particular significance to Dustine and having Dustine speak about the stories behind them.  Over the course of the evening Dustine took us through 10 beautiful pictures that he had created and spoke to us about what they meant to him.  One such picture was this beautiful picture of Adele which, for Dustine, symbolises the moment when he woke from his coma in hospital; learning what had happened and trying to come to terms with his life changing injuries whilst surrounded by silence.  Dustine couldn’t even ask the millions of questions racing around in his mind due to tracheostomy which was preventing him from talking.  Eventually Dustine was able to indicate that he wanted the radio on and the first song Dustine heard was “Someone like you” by Adele.  Although the lyrics themselves had no significance to Dustine or his accident, the song hit a cord that left him in tears and still has an effect on him today.

Adele by @soloinkart

Throughout the course of the evening Dustine talked us through other significant pictures including Coldplay, whose music inspired Dustine during his time at the spinal rehabilitation unit to get up in the morning and face his physiotherapy and Ed Jackson, the professional rugby player who sustained a spinal cord injury and who inspired Dustine by completing a challenge called Now or Neverest, which involved climbing up and down his stairs at home 89,000 times.  The equivalent of summiting Mount Everest and back.

Coldplay by @soloinkart

Ed Jackson by @soloinkart

It was fascinating listening to Dustine recount where his art has taken him in recent years, the people he has met and the strength he has drawn from his artwork.

As well as talking about his artwork Dustine very generously donated 20 pictures for a silent auction.  Dustine’s artwork proved very popular, not unsurprisingly given it included this stunning picture of a bee:

The event was a great success and we were delighted to be able to raise over £4,000 for the SIA which will go towards helping those with spinal cord injury.  As a result of the Covid pandemic things have been incredibly difficult for all charities including the SIA with fundraising events repeatedly curtailed, postponed or cancelled.  Despite this the SIA have been able to adapt their services to continue to support its members.  From maintaining their support lines to setting up a weekly virtual café – this has meant that people have still been able to speak with nurse specialists, get advocacy help and speak with the support network teams.  The SIA have worked incredibly hard over the past year to support its members I am delighted that BBK, in conjunction with Dustine and all those who attended our event, have been able to help that support continue.

Follow Dustine @soloinkart on Instagram or Facebook.

For more information on the SIA please visit their website.

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