From the South Shields Evening Gazette, 13 January 2009. Story by Joanne Rudd.
A TEESSIDE artist who overcame a serious illness was chosen in an international competition to create a masterpiece in Scotland.
Chris Dooks, originally from Marske, has been commissioned to create a piece of artwork in an 18th century ice house in a remote Scottish location.
Chris, who suffers from myalgic encephalopathy, ME, was chosen out of 50 artists to create the artwork in Helmsdale.
The 37-year-old, who lives in Edinburgh with his girlfriend Eleanor Thom, 29, believes some of his success has stemmed from his illness.
Chris said: “When I became seriously ill, I was housebound for around six months.
“In that time I feel that I became much more creative in my thinking and my work.
“Through my condition I was forced to spend a lot of time alone, and so I began to think about my environment creatively, which helped me.”
Chris was asked by the NHS to speak to prisoners in Scotland to help them find ways to cope with their time in the cells.
He found he had ME after flying out to California for work in 1996. Following the long-haul flight, he collapsed in Nevada.
He said: “It was very scary. I was vomiting an awful lot and was in quite a bit of pain.
“I couldn’t fully complete the documentary I was filming out there and needed to come home.”
Following his return to the UK, Chris then became housebound.
He said: “I felt that if I left the house I wouldn’t make it back, I thought I was going to die.”
ME can cause severe fatigue, painful muscles and joints, disordered sleep, gastric disturbances, and poor memory and concentration.
He said: “Obviously any jobs I take on now I try to do on a part-time basis because of my condition. I’m sick all the time, but I’m fearlessly ambitious and to some extent I think that pushes it back.”
Despite his illness, Chris has already had a long and successful career.
He was a Cleveland College art teacher, a documentary maker and a musician signed to various record labels, as well as being one of the youngest directors of the South Bank Show aged 26.
Chris has never forgotten his Teesside roots. Before leaving for Scotland in 1991, he lived in Marske with his parents John and Susan, who still live there.
Chris said: “It was on Teesside that I had my first taste of working in film and art. I used to film the ICI training videos. I’m proud to be from the region, and I hope to do a future project about Cleveland some day.”
Chris’ mother, Susan, 64, said: “His dad and I are very proud of him achieving the things he has in a career he loves.”
Chris and Eleanor will be spending time in Helmsdale, which Chris describes as a “Scottish version of Whitby” as he creates his work.
The ice house was once used to store salmon that came from the River Helmsdale.
Chris will work with local artists to look at which parts of the building could reveal stories.
He said it will create a tour which will turn the ice house into an art/historical object using light and sound.