They say a picture speaks louder than a thousand words.

This is certainly the case when it comes to the work of teen artist, James Pittilla.

For the 18-year-old, studying at the North East Autism Society’s Thornhill Park School in Sunderland, has used his GCSE art portfolio to pay tribute to his late foster father.

Using the title, ‘Wish You Were Here’, James has created a series of paintings capturing the favourite places he shared with his ‘best friend’ Paddy McGonigal.

Images include a composition of yellow gladioli, Paddy’s favourite flower, the marina where they went fishing together on Paddy's boat called 'The Great Gust', the allotment where he and James worked together and the lighthouse where the family scattered Paddy’s ashes following his death in November 2014.

Smiling as he explained the reasons behind each picture, James said:

This is my favourite one (pointing to the painting of the allotment). Me and Paddy went there a lot. We grew lots of things there and I miss him.

Now, to say thank you to the Macmillan nurses who helped Paddy in the end stages of lung cancer, James is selling copies of his artwork to raise funds for the cancer support charity.

James Pittilla - GCSE Artwork

James, who was diagnosed with autism age 11, said:

There was a nurse called Nicky who helped Paddy. She made sure he wasn’t in pain. I thought it would be a good idea to help Macmillan because they helped Paddy.

James, who lives in Whitley Bay with his foster mum Julie McGonigal and his foster siblings, travels to the specialist autism school each day.
Julie, 54, said:

We are so proud of James. He’s been with Paddy and myself since he was seven so when we lost Paddy James lost a father figure but also his best friend.

He’s worked really hard on his paintings and seeing them for the first time today has been really emotional. Paddy would be so proud because he always pushed James to live up to his potential. Paddy didn’t see James’ autism as a barrier – he always encouraged him to be the best he could be.

Julie, her sister, her mum and James’ foster sister Shania, were invited to a private viewing of James’ portfolio work, followed by afternoon tea made by his fellow students at the school.

Julie added:

The school has been amazing. James was in other special education schools before here and as quick as he was dropped off in the morning we would get a call to come back and get him. We’ve had nothing like that here. The staff are incredible – just like Paddy they can bring the best out in James. They know how to interact with him, how to relate to him and this art display shows how committed they are to helping him shine.

We have so many memories together, Paddy and James loved being out on the boat and to see the smile on James’ face was fantastic. The paintings are a lovely tribute to Paddy but also to the relationship they shared. We all miss him. This project has helped James express the feelings he has. I’m very touched by it.

Head Teacher for Thornhill Park School, Christine Cave said:

James expresses himself though fine art. Having recently lost his foster father, James has used art as means of coping with his loss. The grieving process continues to be worked through with James expressing his emotions and his reflections on past times with Paddy through his paintings and poignant story in a series of postcards written to Paddy in memory of the good times they spent together.

"I am very proud of James and hope that people will get behind his campaign for Macmillan Cancer Support by buying prints and postcards. This was entirely James’ suggestion and clearly one that is important to him.

Prints of James’ art are now being commissioned and copies can be bought from our online shop, with profits going to Macmillan Cancer Support.