Artist profile - Michael Ashcroft

Stepping Stones near the Inn at Whitewell

Stepping Stones near the Inn at Whitewell - Credit: Archant

Serious illness was the unlikely catalyst that began Michael Ashcroft’s career, writes Barbara Waite

A brain tumour led to Michael Ashcroft becoming a full time artist

A brain tumour led to Michael Ashcroft becoming a full time artist - Credit: Archant

Michael Ashcroft is a multi-award-winning artist who sells his work all over the world. But it took an operation for a life-threatening condition for him to realise that his passion for painting could be a career rather than a hobby.

He was working as a welder when, at the age of 28, he was diagnosed with a benign tumour behind his ear. He had a 12-hour operation which left him deaf in his left ear and unable to swallow or speak properly.

Immediately following the operation, Michael saw his reflection in the hospital window. ‘I remember shuffling to the window and I could see that one side of my face had drooped,’ he says. ‘I could see the good side in light and the side that had drooped was in darkness,’ he says. But rather than despair, his first urge was to grab a pencil and paper and draw what he saw.

‘I had a moment where I just thought OK, I’m going to do what I’ve always wanted to do, and at that moment in time it was to record the image that I could see, because to me, it was art.’

Early memories inspire many of Michael's works, such as this one, Parklife

Early memories inspire many of Michael's works, such as this one, Parklife - Credit: Archant

Originally from Croston but now living in Leyland, Michael remembers a childhood full of pencils, paint and sketchbooks. ‘My mum was very arty,’ he says. ‘As a child I was encouraged to draw and paint and it’s something I’ve always loved.

‘But when I left school I reluctantly went into an engineering apprenticeship, just to tide me over for a while. Then I met Debbie, my wife, and we got a mortgage, we had two children, I had a good job, I was earning good money and I had commitments. If it hadn’t been for that operation, I would probably still be a welder.’

His post-operation painting was the catalyst to his career as an award-winning landscape artist. ‘I went back to work after 12 months of recovery but it was a struggle,’ he says. ‘Then I got made redundant and had to go for interviews with no voice, but I continued to work. However it got harder and harder to continue so I went to Runshaw College to do an A-Level in fine art.’

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Until then, Michael had been completely self-taught. It was only after he was diagnosed with paraganglioma – a rare genetic condition which causes recurring tumours and endured two further operations – that he decided to pursue art as a full-time career.

One of Michael's Lancashire landscapes, One Summer

One of Michael's Lancashire landscapes, One Summer - Credit: Archant

‘While I was still working I started entering competitions and I won one in an international American art magazine. From there, a gallery in Ambleside picked me up and as soon as a gallery puts its weight behind you, that’s when people start to notice you. I started selling my work and making money from it. My newest gallery, Gateway Gallery, in Hale, Greater Manchester, first spotted my work in Ambleside. It snowballs like that.’

His earliest work was urban landscapes in oil, a subject which remains close to his heart. ‘I was always drawn to oil painting. My grandad used to take us to a country pub every month for our lunch. I absolutely loved it. But it was only when I got better technically that I felt able to tackle the landscapes we had seen during those times.’

Michael’s first painting – his post-operative reflection in the hospital window – sold for £70. Now, his works command up to £10,000 and are sold all over the world.

‘I was doing a local radio phone-in talk show a few years ago and a woman called in who had bought the painting I did after my first operation,’ he says. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know the identity of that first buyer. But, he says, ‘the host asked if I would have changed anything about my earlier career as an engineer, and I said no.

‘That first operation was a traumatic experience but it’s something that’s triggered a lifetime of joy. And I wouldn’t change a thing.’

Susan Eyres, director of Gateway Gallery, which specialises in modern British art and represents him says: ‘I find Michael’s paintings gentle and I delight in spending time with them when I’m feeling frazzled. I can put myself into his paintings and experience a moment of peace.’

You can follow the latest from Michael on his twiiter accout at @MJAshcroft