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.
‘Paul Hollywood tweeted he liked Deborah’s collage of him’, Maura said. Goodness, I thought, looking at the image of Paul Hollywood wearing high heels and holding a large phallic cupcake. Deborah had opened her eyes after sleeping all morning as the clock approached one and I was keen to say hello, understanding that she was very fragile. Her carer had asked to see the collages and we were discussing them when Maura, the head nurse and keen tweeter, arrived with the Hollywood news. Deborah was delighted: ‘ I like Bake Off’, she whispered, smiling with a twinkle in her eye. Her carer hoped by Christmas Deborah would be able to resume the collages. Meanwhile, I wondered if she’d like me to read a short story to her, given that she couldn’t herself at the moment, and reading was a passion. ‘I’d love that’, she beamed.
The morning had been enlivened by the arrival of Phoebe who was volunteering to draw patients’ portraits. She’d started with Olive who was delighted as the charcoal study progressed. She would be sharing it with family. ‘What talent!’ Olive exclaimed, ‘You must go to art school, no time to waste!’ And then Phoebe drew Irving. ‘Wonderful, my wife will really appreciate this’, he replied. Olive had suggested to Michael that he sit for his portrait too, and Phoebe joined the throng around Deborah to see the collages, and waved goodbye until next week.
Michael had spent the morning finishing his masterful watercolour. Delighted, he now understood the importance of a good drawing to carry a picture. ‘It can be quite a simple drawing but it’s essential’, he observed. We agreed to find a beach scene, with beach huts which would lend themselves to a colourful palette. I handed him a bag of Cox apples to take home and took his picture to cut out from its tape and board. It was remarkable to think back to the start of the year when Michael couldn’t draw in perspective and was new to watercolour painting.
Concerttina was sitting up and we talked. She seemed anxious and preoccupied. I asked if she’d like to paint. ‘I’m no good at art, I can’t draw’. ‘But I love your work, it’s full of life, full of you!’ I replied.
Concerttina’s masks had made me think of Dubuffet, the 20th-century French painter, who believed that true art should express humanity. Today, I began thinking of Craigie Aitchison’s simple pictures full of emotion.
Her fingers were painful and she chose a soft brush and watercolour. ‘I’m going to paint the sun to remind me of home in Southern Italy’. I helped find the colours and load the brush. Although her eye sight was poor, Concerttina created a lovely beach scene reminiscent of Mediterranean life. Not mincing her words and looking me in the eye, she stated: ‘I liked that.’
By now, Cheryl was awake and we talked, catching up on family news and her two demanding cats, comparing them to my equally challenging jack russell dogs. She was sitting up to relieve her back and liked the idea of painting. ‘I wonder if you want to paint some textile designs, given how much you loved dress making when you were younger?’ As we chatted about her school, Cheryl sketched some garments and then began colouring them using a watercolour pen. What delicate marks she made.
Before leaving, I placed Concerttina’s lively Pinocchio drawing from last week in a frame for all to see as they entered the ward, and thought about John Ruskin, the 19th-century social reformer, who believed that art was vital to people’s health and wellbeing. He said:
‘Art is not a matter of taste, but involves the whole man. Whether in making or perceiving a work of art, we bring to bear on it feeling, intellect, morals, knowledge, memory, and every other human capacity, all focused on a single point…Art should communicate truth above all things…The greatest thing a human soul ever does is to SEE something, and to retell what it saw in a plain way.’