Artist Fay Ballard is leading a weekly creative workshop with dialysis patients at Hammersmith Hospital. She is writing a weekly blog in response to her experiences.
I arrived at the Auchi Dialysis Ward this morning eager to share with Michael my book on Turner’s trip to the Alps (1802) but saw that the blue curtain was drawn around his bed. The Ward seemed quiet and many patients were asleep. However, nearby, Josephine was awake and alert, perhaps a good opportunity to share my pencil drawing of a Madonna and Child with the Young St John the Baptist, taken from Raphael’s masterpiece? Clutching a bundle of coloured pencils in my hand, I showed her the drawing and asked if she’d like to colour in the flowers which I had added to the scene? Would I fill in the colour because her sight was poor? Yes, if she told me which colours to use. We sat together working away until the job was done. Although hesitant at the start, Josephine became engaged as she saw the flowers brought to life. Which yellow: the lemon or the Indian one? Which blue: the dark navy, the lighter cobalt or the pale one? Which red: the crimson or the deeper plum? Which brown: the burnt umber or the lighter raw umber? Her eyes moved swiftly and she chose different colour hues and combinations, confidently and without hesitation, displaying a keen eye for colour. She agreed to hang the finished drawing in the waiting area for a short while on the understanding that she could take it home soon after.
Before parting, Josephine asked if she could have one of the Renaissance images of the Virgin Mary with Christ and St John the Baptist from ‘The Queen of Hearts’, the book we had studied together a fortnight ago. She wanted to hang the picture in her kitchen. I made a note to bring in the book for us to select the image and make a colour photocopy for her to keep.
By now, Michael’s blue curtain was drawn back and he was resting. I went over with my book on Turner and we sat and talked about the artist. A lull in the Napoleonic Wars in 1802 enabled Turner, aged 27, to embark on his first overseas tour across France, Italy and into Switzerland to draw and paint in watercolour the landscapes he encountered. Accompanied by his patron who paid for a carriage, guide and Swiss servant, Turner took several sketchbooks, pencils, chalks and paints. Travelling conditions were hard; roads were poor or non-existent and mountain passes narrow and treacherous so that the carriage often had to be abandoned. Accommodation varied from posting inns on major routes to remote mountain shelters. On his return, Turner commented, ‘The trees in Switzerland are bad for a painter, – fragments and precipices very romantic, and strikingly grand. The Country on the whole surpasses Wales, and Scotland too…’ Michael was completely absorbed. He didn’t have the energy to paint today and spent the morning reading the book. By the end of the session, he had selected a luminous, loose colour study painted on the Great St Bernard Pass. We hope to have a go at painting this study next week in order to explore Turner’s techniques.
Olive was awake and we talked about our weekends and families. I’m searching for something creative which would have meaning for Olive, and the more I get to know her, the more I can feel my way.
Irving was reading on the other side of the Ward and gave me a progress report on his text-based work of art. His granddaughter had relished the opportunity to draw around his words and had already completed her task. Now his daughter would design the overall piece. Soon he would be able to give me a copy to display in the waiting area, enabling his family to keep the original. We talked about world events and his academic career and I left him reading.
Before departing, I placed Michael’s first two watercolour landscapes inside one of the perspex frames hanging in the waiting area and stood back to admire these soulful gems of light and colour which radiated their warmth into the Ward.