A cheap box of supermarket paints changed injured veteran Ady Wright’s life.
Now he has gone from deep depression to being a professional artist, mentor and judge on Channel 5’s Watercolour Challenge which starts today. The Yorkshire episodes will air everysay next week at 4pm
“I’m from a military family. My father, uncles and brother were soldiers; career soldiers. It is no surprise that the path of a proud, professional soldier would be my own destiny,” says Ady, who lives near Whitby.
But after 15 years in the British Army, Ady sustained a severe injury whilst on active service.
“My military career fell apart,” he recalls. “After sessions of surgery, a course of rehabilitation began at Headley Court. That was when deep depression set in. I went to hell and was suicidal.
“For more than nine months the army doctors tried various therapies, but the darkness did not lift. Even the thought of my kids couldn’t lift me out of it. I had lost everything. I was in a wheelchair, I had lost my job, my home and my army family.
“One day, a therapist bought me an Aldi painting kit costing £4.99. I thought he was mad. Throughout my life I had shown no talent or interest in art whatsoever. That cheap art set lay there for two weeks. Then at 5am one Sunday I just couldn’t sleep and so I picked up the art set and I just painted. The moment that brush his the canvas my life changed.
“To sweep pigment across canvas felt so natural; this new way to express myself was simply wonderful. It really was a huge deal to me at the time. It was a revelation, and to this day, I’m bemused over how it came to be. I just could suddenly paint – it was a gift – and it saved me. I suddenly had all this technique, the only thing that has changed since is my originality.
“I painted nearly non-stop for 36 hours and then I realised I didn’t feel suicidal any more.”
But Ady still didn’t want people to know about his new found ability, for him it was nothing more than therapy to help him cope with the world and help his mental health.
“I’d paint all day and then I would wipe it off at the end of the day and reuse the canvas the next day,” he says.
“It gave me a sense of freedom, I wasn’t painting to make money, I was painting because it made me feel better.
“I shut myself away from the world for eight years,” says the father-of-six who decided to settle in Yorkshire after having to leave the army. “I set up a tiny studio in the hallway of my house, and painted, and painted, and painted.”
Through those years, his grasp and appreciation of other artists took root.
“I absorbed countless books and ‘how to’ videos on YouTube. The wonder of painting and art filled my life. Even so, I continued to conceal my work and kept it from the gaze of those not close to me.
“Eventually, my doctor, of his own volition, arranged an introduction to Sallyanne, the curator of the gallery at Danby Moors Centre. Sallyanne offered me a solo exhibition of those paintings accumulated over eight years of brush and canvas solitude.
“I was supposed to go the opening but the thought of a room full of people when I hadn’t been out of the house for eight years was too much and my anxiety went sky high and so I pulled out.”
The exhibition went ahead, however, and after three days his doctor convinced him to go and take a look.
“I couldn’t believe it. More than 70 per cent of the 30 or so paintings had red dots on, meaning they had sold.”
By the end of the exhibition every one of Ady’s paintings had sold.
“I started to hope that maybe I could support my family through my painting.”
He opened a gallery and studio where he also teaches A-level and GCSE students from a nearby college and he is keen to help anyone who has suffered trauma and feels they might benefit from art to contact him.
“I truly believe painting saved me, in body, mind, and spirit. At the outset, all I sought was sound mental health, but art has suffused all aspects of my being.
“To speak of it feels astonishing. Although I’m less able-bodied, I find more joy and contentment as an artist, than I knew in my former life.”
Now Ady will be a mentor and judge on the new series of Channel 5’s Watercolour Challenge, hosted by Fern Britton.
“This guy from the production company came into the gallery and said they had been researching my background and would I like to be involved in the new series of Watercolour Challenge. I liked the sound of it, it made art fun and that’s as it should be.”
Everyday from Monday next week Watercolour Challenge sees artists visit Scarborough Bay, Goathland Railway Station, Castle Howard and Peasholm Park in Scarborough.
Fern learns how Scarborough became known for its healing waters, both for quaffing and bathing. She also hears the story of another painter who once painted this exact view the artists are painting – Joseph Mallard William Turner.
At Goathland Railways Station, Fern meets the Station Master who began volunteering to keep the station alive in the 1960s and also learns about the fashion of Railway Art through the work of Yorkshireman Frank Mason, whose work inspired train journeys to Yorkshire’s beauty spots.
At Castle Howard Fern meets Nicholas Howard, the latest family member to discover how his trailblazing ancestors employed the greatest architects of the day to embed a piece of Italy into the North Yorkshire landscape. Castle Howard also has a significant art collection and she meets one of its curators to discuss, a magnificent fresco painted by the fashionable Italian artist Antonio Pellegrini at the turn of the 18th century.
Peasholm Park in Scarborough was designed over 100 years ago by civil engineer Harry Smith to turn an area of scrubland into a magical escape to the Far East. The lake, with its waterfall, pagoda and dragon boats, have been admired ever since.
Fern learns of another of Yorkshire’s brushes with the Orient in the form of Confucian scholar and artist Chiang Yee, whose 1940s book Silent Traveller in the Yorkshire Dales, featuring countryside paintings with a Chinese twist, became a best seller. In the last Yorkshire episode the watercolourists tackle a grand architectural pavilion set in the grounds of the Castle Howard Estate. The Temple of the Four Winds, designed by John Vanbrugh, sits at the base of the Howardian Hills at the end of a tree lined promenade. Fern meets Castle Howard’s head curator Dr Chris Ridgway, who has looked after the estate’s listed building for over 30 years.
Ady adds: “I really enjoyed being part of the programme, it was like taking part in a military exercise on steroids.”
Watercolour Challenge sees four amateur painters competing to capture some of Britain’s finest views against the clock.
The aspiring artists have just three hours to capture, in watercolour, the scene before them – from beaches to mountains, castles to railway stations.
Encouraging them all the way is enthusiastic host Fern Britton and, each week a different professional artist, who acts as both mentor and judge and provides expert tips along the way.
This series sees artists in Devon, Yorkshire, South Wales and Cornwall all going brush to brush to create the perfect rendition of the best of British views.
The Yorkshire episodes were due to be aired this week but technical problems means it will now be next week.
A C5 spokesperson said: “We apologise that Monday’s episode of Watercolour Challenge was different to the one originally billed, this is unfortunately due to some technical difficulties. The rest of this week’s episodes will be based in Devon and we will play out the Yorkshire episodes all next week.”
For details more visit adywright.com