“I always thought art was a matter of life and death. This kind of proves it.”

That is Ottawa artist Blair Sharpe, making a joke to make the best of a bad situation.

The 62-year-old says he’s facing certain death if he doesn’t soon get a lung transplant.

Sharpe has something called interstitial lung disease. His own immune system is scarring his lungs.

In a tragic twist of irony, doctors think the condition has been caused by a rare hypersensitivity to something in the very paint he uses to make art.

“I basically became allergic to it, an auto-immune kind of allergic so that my body is attacking itself,” he explains.

His situation is so rare that doctors can’t definitively say what in the paint might be causing the reaction, or if new lungs might re-set his immune system so he can paint again.

Sharpe uses regular acrylic paint, the same kind countless other artists use every day with no ill effects.  It’s not the paint that’s causing the damage, but his own unique reaction to it.

“It’s absolutely safe,” says John Wallack, owner of Wallack’s Art Supplies. He also runs Wallack Galleries where he has just opened a show of Sharpe’s latest works.

Sharpe’s work is also currently on display at the Ottawa School of Art, where he has long been a teacher.

Sharpe and his wife had to miss the openings of his shows. They have re-located to Toronto where the artist is on a transplant list.

Until then, he’s treating his condition as perhaps only an artist can. He’s observing it, learning about it, and even turning it into a bit of an art project.

"I'm letting them make a project out of me. I'm encouraging it,” he says. “I'm just looking at it as another kind of part of my art process in a strange way."