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 for my third visit at the Auchi Acute Dialysis Unit at Hammersmith Hospital this morning and found Michael lying on his bed strapped up to his machine. Last week Michael had experimented with his first watercolour painting, working from his imagination. We’d also had a good conversation about Francis Bacon and Leonardo da Vinci.
Keen to continue, we began by looking through a book of watercolours by the late 18th-century British artist, Francis Towne, who captured light and distance in his mountainous landscape paintings. We noticed how Towne achieved depth in his pictures by painting the foreground in detail with strong greens and earth colours. He then completed the distance in a range of soft blues adding generalised details. Prompted by Michael, we used my iPad to search for watercolours by Turner and marveled at the visionary, dreamy pictures. I’d brought along a small travelling watercolour box containing a water bottle, brush, paints, sponge and small lid for a cup to hold the water for Michael to take home. We imagined Turner making his way across the Alps with a bag full of sketchbooks and a travelling watercolour box to make swift drawings as he watched the changing light and weather conditions over the mountains and sky above. I mentioned that the Tate Gallery has 30,000 sketches and watercolours by Turner in its collection.
Michael and I peered into a Turner watercolour and I explained the ‘wet on wet’ technique to achieve soft light and colour and the way Turner would scratch out tiny pieces of surface paper to reveal the bright white underneath thereby creating light effects. Should Michael copy a Francis Towne or a Turner to explore their techniques as artists in the past did whilst learning their trade, or should he select a photo from the internet to inspire him? Choosing the latter, he was ready to start and I brought my art trolley to his bedside, we set up a mini studio on his table, and I left him to paint.
I wanted to catch Irving to discuss our idea of a text-based work of art and to my delight he had written his words for me to consider. He had planned to ask his granddaughter to decorate the text and his daughter to design the piece. The words were profound. How did he approach his writing? By writing for the individual about the universal. I replied that his words brought to mind the late 19th early and 20th – century poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, who advised a young poet to ‘rescue yourself from general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you’. Irving’s machine was flashing to alert the nurses that it needed recalibrating and so I said goodbye.
Josephine was awake and smiling and we talked about the beauty of God, of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Last week we’d looked through a book of Renaissance paintings of the Virgin Mary and she had told me many stories from the Bible.
I introduced myself to Olive and we spoke for some time about our lives. She sang quietly to me the hymn, ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’. Beautiful.
Time was speeding past and I went to see Michael’s promising painting and we discussed the techniques he’d employed before clearing up. I made a note to bring a book on Turner next week and gave him some watercolour paper and a sketchbook to take home.
As I wheeled my trolley back to the cupboard, I saw Sally sitting up in bed talking with her sister and daughter. Sally is a great dress and crochet maker, knitter and embroider. Would she please display her work in the entrance to the Unit where we’ll be mounting a display of patients’ work? That’s an ambition for the long term because everything Sally makes goes to someone to wear…but I will keep trying.