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.
Irving looked up from reading ‘Shtetl: The Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews’ by Eva Hoffman and smiled. I moved closer to his bed and we began talking about the Bar Kokhba revolt, the rebellion of the Jews of the Roman province of Judea against the Roman Empire. Emperor Hadrian assembled a large army from across the Empire and crushed the revolt. I read later that some 580,000 Jews were killed and 50 fortified towns and 985 villages were razed to the ground. Our conversation moved on to the Greek leader, Alexander The Great, who accommodated the Jews and allowed them to remain autonomous, and then it developed into a discussion about visual imagery and religion. We compared Judaism’s prohibition of the worship of a picture as a god with images of the Virgin Mary in the Roman Catholic Church which Josephine and I had been looking at last week. He explained the importance and ancient history of poetry and literature in the Jewish faith.
Michael was discussing nutrition with the nurse, and when I caught up with him later as he lay on his bed, he showed me a set of brushes he’d bought. I gave him a Tate Gallery book on the history of British watercolour painting and a small gallery guide to an exhibition on ‘Late Turner’ held at Tate Britain a few years ago. We marvelled at one of the paintings where Turner had suggested two fishermen with a couple of flicks of red paint. If he’s able and can organise transport, Michael will visit the Royal Academy next Tuesday to participate in a painting workshop offered by the Imperial College Arts Trust. Turner was an art student at the RA and became a member some years later. His works are in the Academy’s collection and I hope Michael will be able to see some of these next week.
Josephine and I greeted each other and spoke. Could I bring in another picture of Saint John the Baptist from the book? Yes, we agreed, let’s have another look through it after her operation.
I introduced myself to Akosua, the young woman who was sleeping last week, and we talked for a while about her love of dance and sport which she had practiced, including football. Aware that she was lying on a bed strapped up to the machine, I wondered if we could somehow consider a drawing of movement whereby a sweeping gesture of her arm could make marks on a large piece of paper? Yes, perhaps a bit outlandish. I made a note to show her a book on contemporary artists who incorporate the movement of their bodies into their work. Akosua mentioned her enjoyment of Sudoku and love of maths. Perhaps we could create a drawing based on this game in some way? Another offbeat idea. My mind started ticking over with possibilities. We talked about our lives and then I asked which were the three most popular Haagen Dazs ice creams sold at the old Odeon cinema in High Street Kensington? Praline, Baileys and Margarita.
As I was inserting two more of Michael’s watercolours into one of the frames in the ward’s entrance area at lunchtime, Olive came and sat down waiting to be taken for a scan. We talked at length about life’s challenges. She liked the works of art on display by Michael, Irving and Josephine very much and thought that perhaps she might be able to do something. Hurray! She smiled. I’d been hoping that she would have a go one of these weeks and I’d been thinking about some ideas. We agreed to discuss these next week.
The session turned out to be a morning of talking, thinking and planning; essential elements in the creative process.