MOVING FORWARD: Afer a severe stroke, Michael Gagnepain developed a passion for art and is now winning awards.
MOVING FORWARD: Afer a severe stroke, Michael Gagnepain developed a passion for art and is now winning awards. Aden Stokes

Tragedy sparks talent

"I NEED to start painting.”

After suffering from a major stroke in January 2015, Emerald resident Michael Gagnepain uttered these five words, despite not touching a paintbrush since school.

"While I was going through all this nonsense I had this urge to paint,” Mr Gagnepain said.

"I started getting pictures and images in my head.

"It was almost like I could close my eyes and paint it.”

Since his first major stroke three years ago, Mr Gagnepain has suffered a total of six strokes, two heart attacks and been diagnosed with fibromuscular dysplasia and myocardial bridging. Both are incurable.

Mr Gagnepain, who moved to Emerald from Zimbabwe in 2006 due to the political situation at the time, said the first painting he wanted to do was an Aboriginal-style painting of Ayres Rock.

"Coming from Africa, the bush life, style and colours of Australia are very similar to where I was from,” he said. "What attracted me was this huge rock and it reminded me of a place in Zimbabwe, Matopos Hills.

"I dotted the whole painting. It took me three months to finish.

"I was paralysed on the left side of my body and couldn't coordinate drawing or writing.

"Painting, and especially the dotting, helped me with my coordination, patience and perseverance, it helped put me in a good place.”

Proud of his first artwork, Mr Gagnepain entered the piece in a Mackay expo and received Pride of Place.

His passion for pursuing art progressed from there and reached new heights.

"I entered a few more competitions and didn't win anything until last year when I entered the 2017 Annual Art Awards,” Mr Gagnepain said.

"My painting Misty won the People's Choice Award. Winning that inspired me to go further and enter more competitions and put more stuff up in galleries.

"At this year's 2018 Annual Art Awards I won the Acquisitive prize for my work Serenity. I was very taken back by that.”

Although he has faced some of the toughest years of his life, Mr Gagnepain has now reached a place where he is able to find inspiration in all he has achieved.

"I said I am not going to give up,” he said. "It's only been three years and I didn't know I was capable of doing what I am doing.

"You want to always strive to achieve something in life, you always want to do better than what you did before.”

Mr Gagnepain wants people recovering from a stroke or other serious illness to "never think you can't do it because you can”.