Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Art in Healthcare Reaches Out

If you think that Art in Healthcare (AIH) is only about displaying their collection of artworks on walls in hospitals and care centres, then you will be interested to learn that, as part of a pilot programme, Amelia Calvert, AiH Outreach Manager, has been organising a series of artist-led workshops in a variety of settings around Edinburgh for people of all ages and needs.

One of the artists, painter Leo du Feu, led two workshops at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children. He explains in his own blog that he was asked by AiH to select one of about 600 artworks currently available from their collection on which to base his workshops aimed at children aged between 3 and 11. A keen birdwatcher himself, he chose a stylised lithograph of a bird by Colin Thoms, a great choice which was bound to appeal to children. And indeed they responded wonderfully well as we can see from the images of collaged pictures that illustrate Leo’s blog, using different media and techniques and sometimes in collaboration with another child. Their lively pictures speak for themselves of the fun the children had. 

Colin Thoms  Bird, Tree and Red Sun lithograph 49x65cm
AiH collection

AiH repeated this process with other artists and with various organisations around Edinburgh such as the Libertus Day Centre, St Crispins School and Contact the Elderly. The latter group was kindly given permission by the National Gallery of Scotland to meet within their premises and were able to view some of their paintings as well as those from the AiH collection. The feedback from participants and organisations has been overwhelmingly positive. Staff commented on the unusual focus and engagement of all the participants, how they enjoyed creating the artwork and the different techniques offered to them, often revealing very individual responses. All felt that they would have liked more sessions and some thought that the participants would benefit even more if the sessions were particularly suited to their needs. On that last point there is also the argument to consider that perhaps part of the participants’ enjoyment was down to the input of ‘fresh energy’, in Amelia’s words, into the setting by an external practitioner.

Rainbow Owl by Joy, age 11 
image courtesy of Leo du Feu

It takes a particular set of skills to lead art sessions in healthcare settings. The artists selected by AiH for the pilot scheme are not only all practising artists but they also have had prior experience of running such groups. They have already proved their ability to engage with people and to create a relaxing environment that brings out the participants’ creativity. In short and again in Amelia’s words, they are ‘great with people’. As artists they know what different techniques can do and which ones are best suited to the participants’ age and abilities and with their interpersonal skills and their aptitude at dealing with emotions through art, they know how to help the participants express their feelings visually, focusing on the process rather than the end product.

Colourful Bird background by Keegan, age 4
bird and leaves by Jessie, age 6
image courtesy of Leo du Feu

This six months pilot programme was made possible with government funding.  AiH would like to take it further with longer term sessions of workshops and more sustained interaction between the artists and the participants but as with everything else, it is a matter of securing the necessary funding. This programme has been an important learning experience for all involved: for the participants and their carers, for the AiH managers who, incidentally, are all practising artists themselves, and also for the artists. They now have the know-how to build on its success. They have been recently given funding from Age Scotland for another set of workshops. Let us hope there will be many more to follow. You can keep up to date with their Outreach Projects by following AiH on Facebook.

Blackbird by Finn, age 5
image courtesy of Leo du Feu

When the programme ends in January, AiH will be bringing together many of the artworks created during the workshops in an exhibition that will reunite them with the original works from the AiH collection that inspired them.  This promises to brighten up our dark winter days.

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


Thank you

to Amelia Calvert, Art in Healthcare Outreach Manager, for providing me with the information on the current programme and vision for the future

and to Leo du Feu for giving me access to his blog. The results of his workshop at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children can be seen here:
http://landscapeartnaturebirds.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/painting-birds-in-royal-hospital-for.html  If you wish to hear of Leo's future exhibitions or to discuss workshops you can email him at leo@leodufeu.co.uk


http://www.baat.org/art_therapy.html  The British Association of Art Therapists
http://www.leodufeu.co.uk/ Leo du Feu’s website
http://www.ageuk.org.uk/scotland/ Age Scotland 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Artist Uncovered: David Michie OBE, RSA, FRSA

David Michie hardly needs ‘uncovering’. His successful career as an artist and educator spans some sixty years, he has works in international collections, is affiliated to the major British art associations and credited with many distinctions and awards.  I am slightly intimidated at the thought of meeting him but this feeling is soon dispelled, the master is also a charming man.

When entering his studio, I cannot help but remark how tidy it is with rows of paintings neatly stacked against the walls. He assures me this is quite unusual and due to a recent cataloguing exercise he carried out with the help of his daughter. I also notice the many paints and brushes on the table next to the easel.  

David Michie’s studio
image M F Pugh

Perhaps this allusion to order prompts David Michie to start by saying that he has never had what we call today a career path, he simply reacts to what he sees. His inspiration comes from chance observations made for instance while relaxing with family and friends. The cyclists who rode past him at the cafe terrace in Spain reminded him of Assyrian statuary with their taut facial expressions and elongated helmets, the cloud of shimmering damselflies he came across during a family picnic and the contrast between man-made linearity and the undulation of plants he observed while strolling through his friends’ garden, not just any friends but John Houston and Elizabeth Blackadder, all spawned new series of works. 

He has always carried a small sketchbook in his pocket to draw and write down his observations on the spot during his many travels abroad or while walking around Edinburgh. These notebooks are stacked on a small table and are classified in such a way that he can immediately retrieve the drawing that illustrates the point he is making. As he leafs through the pages, his favourite motifs emerge: insects, orchids, plants, cyclists, skateboarders, dancing couples all beautifully drawn with linear pen strokes.

Flower Border etching, 70x79cm
Art in Healthcare collection

When describing these motifs, David Michie’s passion for colours and spectacle shines.  He spent the first six years of his life in St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, an exclusive resort on the French riviera where the young David revelled in the Mediterranean sun and joie de vivre. The Michie family’s stay in the south of France between 1925 and 1934 when they returned home to the Scottish Borders, has all the ingredients of a novel: an American millionaire, a palatial villa in need of upgrading, a talented architect and artist in residence (his father James Michie), and the abrupt ending when the millions disappeared in the Wall Street Crash. But for a few years the three Michie boys (David and his two older brothers Alastair and Lindsay) led an idyllic free-roaming existence on the estate, looked after by their mother who would become later the celebrated painter Anne Redpath.  We can imagine the inquisitive little boy discovering the natural world around him, the lyrical sensitivity of later years taking shape in the artistic ambience fostered by his parents.

Poppy Heads screenprint, 44x57cm
Art in Healthcare collection

He also recalls the excitement that the arrival of street entertainers to St Jean created in the household, how he enjoyed their acrobatics and the carnival atmosphere and how years later, during the Edinburgh Jazz Festival, he would follow the bands from the High Street down to the Grassmarket with the same enjoyment, capturing the moment in his notebook. He once went to see the Argentinian dance company ‘Tango Pasión’ when they came to Edinburgh and, even in the dark, managed to make annotations that he used later to compose his witty paintings of dancing couples.

The Dance Hall, Afternoon oil on board, 20x20cm
image courtesy of The Scottish Gallery

These direct notes are indispensable to the realisation of his creative process. David Michie describes his art as “a poetic response to what I have experienced” after the famous quote from William Wordsworth, the Romantic poet, who defined poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions recollected in tranquillity”. When back in the seclusion of his studio the painter’s emotions go through their final transformation into artworks that he describes as “a marriage of his inspiration and the painting composition that have to be authentic in the language of painting”.

This summer, the Scottish Gallery curated an exhibition entitled ‘The Michie Family’ which brought together works by his mother Anne Redpath, his father James, his brother Alastair and some of his own paintings. When I ask if this retrospective brought any surprises, David Michie confides that he had never thought of his relatives and himself as part of a quartet before as they all came to painting from different directions. I wondered if the reunion of the works might have revealed some shared trait, the way blood relations that have been separated all their lives turn out to display similar mannerisms. After pointing out that any resemblance between the four comes from the particular thinking of the time that is common among contemporaries, he reflects that perhaps there is a certain shared temperament between them and a structure that comes from training and discipline.

Damselfly on a Leaf oil on canvas, 38x38cm
image courtesy of The Scottish Gallery

The minutes fly quickly in the company of David Michie but after over an hour, it is nearly time for me to leave. We talk about the work of Art in Healthcare and look at his works in the collection. He reminds me how things have changed since the time when hospital walls were kept bare to avoid dust.

As to the artworks we can expect to see in the future, he showed me a series of prints made from recently rediscovered copper plates he etched in the 1980s during a visit to Belgrade where he felt completely disorientated because all the street signs were in Cyrillic. This cultural shock had the effect of sharpening further still his sense of observation. The plates were cleaned up and the prints are as fresh today as when they were new. I am spellbound as he flips over print after print of wonderful black and white streetscapes, displaying his characteristic wit. This show should not be missed when the time comes.

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

... in addition, I spoke to David Michie since our meeting and he mentioned what a pity it was that we had not talked about the French cineasts Marcel Carné (‘Les Enfants du Paradis’) and Jacques Tati (the Mr Hulot series) and the photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson who all had a great influence on him. Well, there is enough material here for another blog...


With thanks to David Michie

thank you also to Elizabeth Wemyss of The Scottish Gallery for the use of their images.


The Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh www.scottish-gallery.co.uk
‘The Michie Family’ exhibition catalogue in The Scottish Gallery website:  

Alastair Michie http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/alastair-michie-painter-and-sculptor-821150.html
David Michie http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Michie 
William Wordsworth http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wordsworth 
The dance company Tango Pasión http://www.tangopasion.com/
Jacques Tati http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Tati

Patrick Bourne, 'Anne Redpath 1895-1965', Atelier Books Edinburgh