Andy Parsons, Artist-in-Residence Sligo University Hospital, Commissioned by The Model
I am currently undertaking a year long Artist in Residency for The Model, Home of The Niland Collection at Sligo University Hospital. As part of this residency I am working on the Renal Ward with patients encouraging them to explore their creativity with experiments in painting and drawing. Alongside this I am developing a body of drawings, paintings and sculptures which will be exhibited next year.
The Renal Ward was chosen as patients there have to attend regularly and for long periods. Alongside the physical challenges the patients have to contend with boredom and extending an invitation to try an connect with creative activities seemed a logical approach. Working in this environment does however come with some challenges. In preparation for the project I undertook hand hygiene training and thought about art activities and how they relate to infection control. I had some experience of the need to protect people with suppressed immunity from my own experience of looking after my son some years ago. Little did I know when I was beginning to think about these practices that they would come to have such a worldwide significance.
When first inviting patients to try their hand at painting I gave everyone their own little watercolour pan, complete with its own extendable brush. After I had made sure everyone on the ward who wanted to take part was working happily I found some time to start making my now work with the same materials. Working with these small watercolour pans I have been trying to record the life of the Renal ward, often using images based on suggestions from the patients. The idea of recording specific objects, scenes and actives based on the patients insights is one of the strands I am keen to develop as the project progresses. It is important that the works capture something of the complexity of the environment and the challenges faced by patients on the ward.
The first few weeks of the residency were spent building a rapport and finding ways round the restrictions of the environment.
The patients have been exploring areas such as mark making and colour mixing and enjoying developing new skills. I have been going out to take photographs to use as starting points for these paintings – using subjects such as clouds and the sea. The results have been beautiful, with each person responding to the materials in their own personal way.
With the closure of the Hospital to visitors and non essential staff I have had to adapt my approach and have started to explore the idea of using my drawings as starting points for sculptures in plaster, and for giant paintings.
The Model has provided me with a studio, which I can use to experiment and explore ideas in, while I wait to go back to working with patients again.
The sculptures are based on a drawings made in situ in the hospital and their rough appearance is a deliberate attempt to evoke the spontaneous mark making of rapid drawing and sketching in watercolour. The figures are composites of many fleeting observations rather than specific people.
The works reference and draw inspiration from the remarkable sequence of paintings and drawings made by Barbara Hepworth in the 1940s, of medical staff working in the then newly formed NHS.
These works celebrated the professionalism and teamwork of health workers, and captured their sense of shared purpose and compassion. I am striving to make work that evokes the same sense of social solidarity and optimism.