WHEN Greg Gilbert was diagnosed with cancer, just over two years ago, he was working on a drawing from paintings by Leonardo Da Vinci.

This year the artist, poet and singer will be exhibiting his work alongside that of the great master, in an important exhibition at Southampton City Art Gallery, which opens next month.

For years Greg, who lives in Bitterne Park, Southampton, was best known as the charismatic lead singer of indie pop band Delays.

But around five years ago, he began concentrating on art, producing stunning biro miniatures from collaged old photographs, and started to make a name for himself in this new field.

But then, two years ago, he hit the headlines again, when the acute stomach pains he had been suffering from were diagnosed as bowel cancer, and he was also found to have stage 4 cancer, which had spread to his lungs.

His partner, Stacey Heale, launched a huge fundraising campaign, to cover the costs of any treatment recommended which wasn't available on the NHS, which went viral.

It reached Stacey's initial £100,000 target in two days, since raising more than £213,500, and put Greg and Stacey in the spotlight for reasons they wished didn't exist.

Since then, Greg's life has been a cycle of punishing chemotherapy and other cancer-battling treatments, and breaks, when he can recuperate, rest, and spend more time with Stacey and their two young children.

And this has been the backdrop – and often foreground – to Greg's artwork, which has evolved hugely over the years, his songwriting, and his writing, which has grown from private outpourings developed as a way to help him process the fear, chaos, panic and rupture of his diagnosis and treatment to a book, Love Makes a Mess of Dying, which will also be published next month, after he was chosen for a project by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

So here Greg stands, at the beginning of another year which he and his loved ones feared he would never see, knowing that it will hold highs of his book launch and exhibition alongside the anxiety of forthcoming scans and the battle of chemotherapy, whilst doing his best to stay in this moment, to focus on the life he is living right now, and not what the next month or year may bring.

As we chat in his favourite Southampton cafe bar, where he spends much of his time, reading or writing, he is struggling with a virus, but full of energy and passion, leaping seamlessly from topics such as the power of poetry to the rise of fascism, often circling back to his fears about our government's plans for the NHS, which have been brought into sharp relief for him by his illness. His diagnosis coincided with Donald Trump's election as President and followed the Brexit vote, and his sense of the wider world and his personal sphere both being deeply off-kilter feel interlinked.

And, of course, cancer and what that means for him is always there, sometimes spoken, sometimes silent.

"I'm in a window, where I find myself seeking increasingly extreme distraction," says the 42-year-old, who admits to getting into long and sometimes draining political debates on social media about issues such as Brexit – he's deeply concerned about the effect that leaving the EU is likely to have on the NHS – and government cuts.

"It's at a time when I should be centring myself. I find the psychological side of having cancer more difficult than the physical side," he adds, explaining how reading the wrong thing can be hugely distressing and colour his emotions for a whole day.

"There's a dance between normalising what you are going through and wanting to be exceptional and be taken care of at times. In the so-called 'cancer community' there are wildly different ways of dealing with it. I am easily affected by things I read and I have to manage what I engage in.

"I've found myself reading more philosophy, to find my way through the difficulty, and to use it as fuel for my career, which I can see that I've done, although it was very instinctive to start with."

Some of this work will feature in his currently untitled  forthcoming exhibition alongside that of Da Vinci, including a room of what he calls his chemo drawings.

The exhibition will also feature abstract work based on Da Vinci's artwork and a room that Greg is curating of work from the gallery's own collection.

"I've found such comfort from doing it, because (with cancer) you're forced to be very time bordered –I can't look too far into the future. I'm held intensely in the moment," he says.

"With the paintings of Da Vinci, I feel I can lean on his sense of immortality. There is huge comfort in feeling that your time is less restricted."

Greg is still preparing for the exhibition, which opens at Southampton City Art Gallery on February 1.

His recent weeks have been largely filled with completing his poetry collection, editing, revising, and, he suspects, driving his editors to distraction. The collection's launch date coincides with the exhibition opening next month.

Greg is someone whose talent could be annoying if he wasn't such a nice person. While Greg studied art before joining Delays, writing poetry is a relatively recent creative endeavour and one that is proving to be just as successful as his artwork, which has previously been exhibited in a number of galleries, including in a large solo exhibition at Southampton City Art Gallery.

He has always written, though, turning out pages of free verse which he would edit for song lyrics.

A keen reader, it was while reading the likes of Walt Whitman and Sylvia Plath that he realised that he enjoyed the language as much as the narratives, and became slowly drawn towards poetry.

"Artistically, I have alway been very visually preoccupied, but then I saw beauty in poetry equal to any painting," he says.

It was at around this time, some five or six years ago, that he began writing his own poetry.

The band was on an extended hiatus, and Greg needed a new project.

He had some pieces published in a poetry anthology and began to connect with the local poetry scene.

"I was writing because I just had to, but I felt very self-conscious about it," he says.

"So I went to a poetry night to scare myself into sharing my work."

He met Gillian Clarke, the former National Poet of Wales, at a reading at The Brook in Southampton, who was very interested in and supportive of his work.

"She felt what I was saying about my illness was quite important, and should be published," he says.

She passed some of it onto Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. The first Greg knew of this was when he received an email from Duffy expressing an interest in seeing more of his work with the possibility of him being the subject of one of four 'Laureate's Choice' publications that she is involved in each year.

"You say 'hold on a minute, this is pretty much everything I ever wanted for my poetry'. I had intense imposter syndrome," says Greg.

"The poetry is very raw. I don't really want my family to read it. It's brutal, in terms of being very honest about my own worries. It's very difficult to balance expression and the impact on my loved ones, but I had to jump off a cliff with it. If I'm not being raw, honest and scared, it's probably not worth publishing. It's only that kind of stuff that resonates."

So here Greg is, with cancer not as a part of his life but now, two years since his diagnosis, woven into the fabric of every aspect of it, with some positive consequences for his clarity of thought and artistic endeavours, as well as all the negative ones.

"My writing is in a place that I wanted to get to with it. It's just very sad that it's taken cancer to get there.

"I write and paint for myself. I was doing that anyway, " he continues.

"What's most important is that I express how I'm feeling. It's a weird privilege of being ill – that I have the time and space to do it.

"I hope people can see that the exhibit and the poetry are aspects of the same thing," he adds.

"I feel very fortunate to have both the exhibition coming up and the volume being published. Just one would be enough to keep me buzzing for a long time."

Earlier on in his illness, Greg said that he was striving to live with cancer, not die from it, and he is certainly living that life to the absolute full.

* Love Makes a Mess of Dying can be pre-ordered from Amazon.