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.
Michael was reading in bed, his healed right eye much improved by the cataract operation. He could see across the Ward without any fuzziness. We talked about the RSC’s production of ‘The Tempest’ which I’d enjoyed at the Barbican Centre last night. I thought he’d appreciate hearing about the special effects and design of the stage after a career building set designs. That led to a conversation about his long incarceration on a life support machine last year when he’d nearly died. Did he feel like art today?
Some weeks ago, Michael had wanted to draw and paint a building in detail. He’d begun by drawing the former building at 1 Poultry. Now we turned our attention to watercolour. Remembering the Elizabeth Blackadder picture that once caught his eye, he decided to tackle the scene.
I explained the difference between hot and cold pressed watercolour paper and why we were using the former. Its smooth surface would enable Michael to achieve detailed precision. I’d prepared some stretched paper onto cardboard a while back. This technique kept the surface flat whilst using wet paint.
We thought carefully about the colour palette and the best way of tackling the picture, agreeing to lay down horizontal washes for the sky, background and foreground first. A doctor arrived just as Michael was about to touch the paper with a large brush loaded with colour. ‘Shall I come back in 20 minutes?’ ‘Yes, please, I’m just in the middle of doing this.’
Returning to his brush, Michael was absorbed until the doctor returned. I left them together and went to find Cheryl.
She was lying flat and very still under the bedclothes. I looked at her sleeping face and thought of Shakespeare.
‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep’… (Prospero in ‘The Tempest’).
Irving was reading and we talked. Was I familiar with Robert Browning’s poem ‘Caliban Upon Setebos?’ No. He explained that Browning takes Shakespeare’s Caliban from ‘The Tempest’, the enslaved monstrous native of the island and lets him speak. The poem reflects the Victorian period’s struggle with Christianity and Darwinian thought. Caliban acknowledges his own actions as mysterious and capricious, like the crabs he kills randomly. If man is made in God’s image, what does man’s corrupt behaviour suggest about God? Does a God exist whose qualities are up for debate? Or is science right, and our lives the product of arbitrary, impartial natural processes?
The doctor left Michael and I returned to find him painting the boat, using his skills of perspective. The picture was taking shape but only two minutes of dialysis remained. ‘Let’s continue next week.’ We packed up the materials and Michael prepared himself for home.
Olive was looking well and rested and we talked about yesterday’s heavenly rain for our gardens. ‘I’d love you to see my garden’. ‘I’d love you to see mine too!’