Blind teen shares love for painting after cancer battle

TALENTED: Blind artist and 17-year-old high school student James Norquay at home.
TALENTED: Blind artist and 17-year-old high school student James Norquay at home. John McCutcheon

JAMES Norquay loves to paint and take photographs - curious hobbies for a teenager who is legally blind.

The 17-year-old Coolum boy has already endured a lifetime of hardship after a battle with brain cancer that started when he was 11, but most locals know him as a friendly blind boy with bright paintings.

James only found his passion for art after he had already lost most of his vision, laying in a hospital bed during his treatment.

He started drawing to keep the boredom at bay, and progressed to watercolours and acrylic painting, all with his face less than 10cm away from the paper so he can see out of the side of his eye.

"No matter what I'm painting, I have to get very close," he said.

"I can only see the blurry colours."


James doesn't remember having full vision, despite having perfect eyesight as a child, because the loss was so gradual.

The Year 12 Chancellor State College student has no peripheral vision and can't see straight on, but he's grateful for the tiny portion of his eyesight that remains.

He uses bright colours in his works because he can see them better.

"I always love to use lots of colours, and my favourite (paintings) are the beach ones," James said.


James Norquay at work.
James Norquay at work. Contributed/Facebook

He creates about 10 paintings every week, and loves photography because he can take a photo, load it onto his computer and zoom in enough to see the scene.

His mother, Melissa Norquay, said art was his therapy, and she could see how well he was coping from what he created.

"It was really telling for me, because at the start he would draw lots of red and black, and there were lots of dragons and flames." Mrs Norquay said.

"His paintings now, he does beautiful beach scenes with lots of water, but he also does these really magical pictures in watercolours.

"They're mystical, they're colourful and they're beautiful.

"Over time, it's been a really good gauge for me to see how James is travelling... which is a really great form of therapy for him to be doing."

She said James had no peripheral vision.

"What he can see, he looks out of the inside of his eye to look the other way," Mrs Norquay said.

"He can't see straight on, he can't see detail in people's faces."

It was James' failing sight that finally brought on the cancer diagnosis in 2011.

"He was having trouble seeing the board at school, the teacher told me at the start of the year," Mrs Norquay said.

"I knew James wasn't well, I had him tested for lots of things.

"They put the biggest letter on the screen, and James was looking around the room, and he just couldn't see it."

An MRI scan the next day confirmed their greatest fears: James had three tumours in his head, the largest pushing against his optic nerve.

As it cut off the blood supply to both his eyes, James had slowly begun to lose his sight - so slowly he hadn't even noticed.


James in 2011 with his younger brother Maxwell, after his cancer diagnosis at age 11.
James in 2011 with his younger brother Maxwell, after his cancer diagnosis at age 11. Che Chapman

James went through surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, and was in remission within a year.

He still has MRI scans twice a year, and will have to manage life-threatening conditions as a result of the cancer for the rest of his life.

Among those is a brain injury, hearing loss from chemotherapy, and water diabetes, which means his body can't hold water.

Mrs Norquay said before James' diagnosis, she had never imagined her son would have to endure such a battle.

"Especially back then, there wasn't much out there about childhood cancer," she said.

"You think it's rare, and it's not rare.

"Brain cancer is the leading cause of child (deaths) in Australia."

But James is most focused on his art, and said he would love to see his passion develop into a career, "without a doubt".

To see more of James' artworks, visit

Topics:  art beach blind coolum inspirational painting photography

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