Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Artist Uncovered: Damian Callan

For my second blog, it is my pleasure to ‘uncover’ the artist Damian Callan.

The human body in motion is a constant source of inspiration for Callan. He often depicts his own children, in groups or singly, by the sea or swimming pools as they paddle, row, run and sometimes simply stand still or sit down. But even when apparently motionless, the body is not inert and Callan’s consummate knowledge of anatomy illustrates this paradox with mastery. His paintings and drawings convey all the fun and happiness that children find in physical pursuits. They exude health and well-being.

The two paintings in the Art in Healthcare collection are early works from Callan’s degree show at Edinburgh College of Art in the mid 90s and both are set in swimming pools.  They are quiet studies. In ‘Boy with Armbands’, there is no splashing about, no shrieking with fear or pleasure, rather the artist has chosen to describe the motion of the bodies as they wade slowly through the water, feeling its weight as they push their way through.  As in most of his work, the figures are rendered broadly and details are kept to a minimum. This simplification is deliberate as it emphasises the subject’s movement and the dynamics of the composition.  

                         'Boy with Armbands' Damian Callan, oil on board, 1995, Art in Healthcare collection

Another of Callan’s skills is his use of back-light and shadows to create an atmosphere. It comes as no surprise to read on his website that he admires Edgar Degas, the Impressionist grand master of light and movement, famous for his studies of ballet dancers and horses and for his dramatic use of ‘contre-jour’. In both paintings in the Art in Healthcare collection, Callan has captured to great effect the particular luminosity, a mix of artificial and natural light that saturates swimming pools.

Following a commission by Sports Scotland to produce a series of paintings for their head office in Stirling, Damian Callan has been, for the last four years, in tune with the nation’s Olympic mood and working with divers from Edinburgh and young gymnasts from Lasswade. With oil and charcoal and also, for the first time, with stencils, he has pushed the process of abstraction further still. 

                                   'Handstand' Damian Callan, oil on canvas, 2012, the artist's collection

He has clearly enjoyed the experience: “It has been a treat to work with all the movement in these disciplines as well as the colour in the swimming pools”. But he also confides that he has missed not working with his children. Even without that personal element, I feel assured that he will have grasped the essence of his subjects and as one of his ex-pupils, I know that he will have made them feel relaxed very quickly and helped bring out the best in them.

Martine F Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Volunteering with Art in Healthcare

My name is Martine, I started volunteering for Art in Healthcare (AiH) in January this year and have been involved in five different projects since. This first blog allows me to look back and reflect on my experiences over the past six months.
AiH has a large collection of high quality contemporary artworks which they place in hospitals and care homes all around Scotland. My first job was to promote this service to care homes and explain how it can improve their patients’ quality of life. It was a revelation to me. I learned as much about these homes and patients’ care as they did about AiH’s services. The length of calls varied between a few seconds to 20 minutes and I am grateful to that manager who took the time to educate me in the needs of her patients.
'April 1997', Barbara Balmer, currently at the new Royal Victoria Hospital
Next I helped with the documentation of AiH paintings for the Public Catalogue Foundation, a national project which will eventually make available online every oil and acrylic painting in the public domain. Led by the collection manager, the AiH team of volunteers went to track down all such relevant paintings hired out to hospitals and homes. Eventually each artwork was taken down, photographed and rehung.  A considerable achievement made even more interesting wherever the description on ‘the list’ had become somehow disconnected over the years with the actual painting. We met some wonderful hospital staff as we searched around. Somehow, when put together, the words ‘art’ and ‘healthcare’ seem to make people want to talk and share anecdotes.
I also met up with another volunteer and shadowed her as she gave a talk in a care home about two paintings hired from AiH. I was able to see for myself the positive impact this carefully planned activity can have. At the end of the talk, some of the residents who had appeared disengaged at the beginning were chatting with her about the paintings and reminiscing about their own experiences.
'Energy is Delight', Alan Davie, currently at the new Royal Victoria Hospital
Next I became involved with the QR (Quick Response) code project. AiH are gradually encoding each of their work on display in hospitals and I was part of a team tasked with writing up reviews for the paintings going to the new Royal Victoria Building in Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital. I found this opportunity very enjoyable and it allowed me to put into practice my training in art history. My list of artists included some prominent Scottish painters such as Barbara Balmer, Elizabeth Blackadder and Alan Davie. It was a pleasure to research the artists and to correspond with some of them. It was also enlightening to consider their works from a healthcare perspective and the effect they can have in a nursing environment.
Finally I was asked to write the introduction to the NHS Lothian art collection for the Public Catalogue Foundation mentioned earlier. AiH were recently appointed to develop and implement their arts strategy. As part of my research I visited the Chaplain of the Royal Infirmary who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the collection. He gave me some fascinating insights into its history and the logistics of displaying works in hospitals, an exercise which can provoke strong reactions, positive and negative, from staff and patients.
When I started to volunteer for AiH I never imagined the range of activities they are involved with or the variety of tasks that would be opened to me. It has been, and still is, an education.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Why do trustee boards matter?

Art in Healthcare are pleased to have our first guest blogger this week!
Gavin McEwan is a well-established charity lawyer and dedicated member of Art in Healthcare's board. Gavin writes about the importance of a strong, involved board for a charity.

One of the things we take seriously at Art in Healthcare is the people who make up our board of trustees. Indeed, the composition of trustee boards is a hot topic for charities across Scotland and beyond, keen to build on the principles of good governance. So why do trustee boards matter so much?

It may be helpful to take a step back and to understand what trustee boards are for. In most charities, other than the very smallest, day to day work is frequently carried out by paid employees or volunteers or a combination of both. Trustees are often not involved in that day to day work in a hands-on way. But it would be a mistake to assume that the trustees have no role to play.

Charity law provides that the trustees are responsible for the control and management of the charity’s affairs – so if something goes wrong, the buck generally stops with the trustees. In some cases, the trustees can be personally liable for mistakes made, and have to pay out of their own personal pockets in order to make good any costs or losses. Trustees therefore have real responsibility for overseeing the strategic development and operation of a charity and they carry a number of important legal duties.


Given the responsibility which trustees bear, it is critical that a trustee board has the right mix of skills and expertise to ensure that their charity is managed to best effect. Getting the board structure right can be a tricky process and needs care and attention. In my “day job” as a charity lawyer, I meet clients every week who are concerned about their governance structures and whether their trustees fully understand their legal duties and the responsibilities and risks which they carry. A large part of my job is to advise charities which board structure is best for them, and to train boards of trustees to help them get it right.

Can things really go wrong if the board doesn’t contain the right people? The answer, unfortunately, is yes. A number of charities have made the newspapers in Scotland over the years because there was some problem with their board structure, or because the trustees had not performed their duties properly. That not only creates negative publicity and the risk of investigation and penalties from charity regulators: it can also expose trustees and charities to financial loss, endangering vital project work, and affecting relationships with funders and other stakeholders, sometimes irreparably.

At Art in Healthcare, we take some care in selecting the trustees who serve on our board. We look at gaps in our skills base and we identify people who can help to fill the gaps. In the end, what we are constantly working towards is a board of trustees with a wide range of knowledge and experience to help Art in Healthcare move forward successfully, tackling any problems that arise on the way. You could say that we are creating a collage of complementary trustees: perhaps that’s not a bad analogy for an art charity!

Gavin McEwan is a charity law partner at Turcan Connell and is the Vice-Chair of Art in Healthcare. He is accredited by the Law Society of Scotland as a Specialist in Charity Law.