Nicholas Kontaxis’ work fills the walls of some of London’s smartest hangouts.

He’s enjoyed sell-out shows in America and the UK – an impressive feat for any 23-year-old.

But when you consider the medical challenges Nicholas battles every day, the achievement is even more astonishing.

American Nicholas is the middle child of Euthym Kontaxis, an A&E doctor, and his wife Krisann, a trained choreographer. The couple have two other sons Michael, 26, and Christian, 20.

‘As a baby there was no indication anything was wrong,’ explains Euthym, 63. Nick seemed to be developing normally, but he had a little crooked smile. At the time we didn’t think anything of it.’

One of Nicholas' paintings called Banana Style

One morning, when Nicholas was a little over a year old, he had his first seizure.

‘Krisann was with him, and it was very subtle,’ says Euthym. ‘She told me about it but I was quite dismissive, typical doctor! I said it was just from having a fever.

‘But the next day Krisann said, “Look!” and I saw another one happening. That moment became the start of a long medical journey involving lots of doctors trying to work out what to do.’

At 15 months old, Nicholas was diagnosed with a brain tumour. ‘There was a mass on the left-hand side of the brain – which accounted for his crooked smile – and the ECG showed he had a kind of epilepsy resistant to medication, so he had any seizures, sometimes between five and 10 a day.’

Nicholas Kontaxis was diagnosed with a brain tumour when young

Frightening to witness, the length of Nicholas’ seizures would vary. Some would last for five seconds, others carried on for a full minute.

‘It felt like for ever when it was happening,’ admits Euthym. ‘It’s devastating to see your son in that state. But because Krisann knew the seizures couldn’t be stopped, she became determined not to surround them with dread and fear.

‘She decided to be almost like a cheerleader about it. She clapped after a seizure, was very positive, and said, “Yay – you’re awake now, let’s go.” Nick would smile, and we didn’t let him lay around afterwards, even if he was tired, we simply got him up and went on with the day.’

The family vowed to treat Nicholas normally. His brothers encouraged him to join in with the rough and tumble of regular family life.

Roger Federer is a fan of his work

Surrounded by love and laughter, the youngster blossomed into a sunny optimist, who was drawn to bright colours.

‘As a little boy Nick loved anyone wearing a brightly coloured jumper and would often reach out to grab their clothing, which wasn’t always appropriate,’ smiles Euthym.

‘People could be taken aback. He especially liked colouring and crayoning and had a real intensity about him when he did it. There was a real focus; he coloured like a mad man, preferring plain paper to traditional colouring books.’

As Nicholas grew, his parents fought to keep him in mainstream school. Art was one subject where he could join in with his peers.

‘He couldn’t draw in the same way the other kids could, or pass exams, but he contributed to the lessons.

Family of Nicholas Kontaxis enjoy a backyard BBQ

It was messy if he had a seizure, and it was messy if he drooled, but that was all OK. He even won a school district award for art – that had nothing to do with him having special needs – so we were really encouraged by that, but never imagined he could earn a living through art.’

When it was time to leave high school at 18, Nicholas’ parents feared for his future.

‘There were different careers people with disabilities could try, but Nick “failed” at all of them. He was allergic to dogs so he couldn’t do the animal rescue, he couldn’t work at a department store or a restaurant because the seizures were a safety issue. We worried he’d never work in his life, which was devastating.’

The school ruled that if Nicholas could sell any of his paintings for money, he could stay on their work experience scheme.

Fortunately, a friend of a friend of Krisann’s who worked in interior design was happy to pay several hundred dollars for one picture. The family were able to show the school the receipt, and Nicholas stayed on. Meanwhile, Euthym and Krisann turned their garage at their home in Rancho Mirage, California, into his studio.

When the teenager needed to have his wisdom teeth removed, the specialist dentist who carried out the extraction insisted he wanted no payment for his work, but instead would like one of Nick’s paintings for his wall at the surgery. Nick’s work, it seemed, had a real currency.

Krisann’s sister had the idea of holding an exhibition of Nick’s work. Krisann was hesitant initially, uncomfortable with her son being in the limelight, but eventually agreed.

In March 2017, his first show at the De Re Gallery in Los Angeles showcased around 30-40 pieces of the budding artist’s work.

‘We expected around 50-100 people to come. We got a spot on the radio and we advertised online. Then a local news channel picked it up and it snowballed,’ says Euthym.

Nicholas with father Euthym and Krisann

‘There was a great energy, 800 people turned up and they loved the pictures. People even got into arguments over pictures and said, “I saw it first!”

‘It was hilarious but Nick was indifferent. He’s an innocent really, an optimist and a positive soul. He just loves painting and people valuing his work, he doesn’t crave attention or praise.’

Since then, Nicholas has held six shows in three years – including one in London currently on at Kerridge’s Bar & Grill – and he’s caught the attention of tennis star Roger Federer (who owns five works) and Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google.

Prices depend on the size of the canvas but can range anywhere from £750 for a small picture to more than £30,000 for a large one.

Nick comes up with the titles – like Banana Style and Joke Around – during his rare spontaneous moments of speech and his parents will scribble them down.

‘It’s crazy, people have even offered us money for the paint-splattered jeans, sneakers and T-shirt Nicholas wears when he works!’ says Euthym.

It is estimated that Nicholas – who doesn’t travel because he needs his routine and can’t manage the jet lag – has endured 50,000 seizures over the course of his lifetime, and he needs 24/7 supervision to keep him safe.

The money from his art helps pay for his carers and medical expenses. He works for eight hours a day between his therapy for autism, swimming and exercising on a trampoline.

‘He’s joyful when he paints. He listens to classical music, Greek Orthodox chanting and musical show tunes.

'He needs some physical therapy each day because he has a turned right foot and his right hand is a little bit spastic. So he works with his left hand, using various palette knives and acrylics, which dry quickly.

‘When he’s having a day with seizures he will work on the ground a lot and it’s less structured. Otherwise he can work standing. We can look at a painting and know whether he’s had a seizure while working on it.’

It’s impossible to predict when Nicholas will have a seizure, but it often begins with him staring into the distance. Afterwards, thanks to the family’s cheerleading approach, Nicholas emerges with a smile on his face.

‘It confuses people when they see it as it looks like he’s enjoyed it. But it relaxes them and takes the fear away. Krisann really had the right positive idea I think,’ concludes Euthym, who feels incredibly lucky his son has the opportunity to financially support himself.

‘All a parent wants is for their child to find something they enjoy doing and can earn a living from. Nick has taught us how to find optimism in times of difficulty. He’s such a good example of how to just be in life. We feel so blessed.’