Monday, 16 December 2013

Artist Uncovered: Nicole Bennett

Night and Day

It is pitch dark. A haphazard spot of light makes its slow way along a crowded mantle piece revealing an odd gathering of anthropomorphic creatures, some faded photographs, a tiny bird cage, a wound up toy, and many more. With this short short film produced for her DJCAD Masters show in 2013, Nicole Bennett investigates her relationship with the objects she has acquired indiscriminately over the years, put on display above the fireplace and forgotten about. 

still from Mantle Piece short film

By bringing them out of obscurity, literally, she renews her acquaintance with them, reflects on their nostalgic and sentimental connotations and what they mean to her and at the same time explores her own identity. Through her camera she puts some distance between herself and her familiar surroundings and becomes an observer, an ethnographer on a field trip collecting data. 
The artist invites us to make sense of these artefacts, to speculate about their connection with each other and about the person who put them there. And just as the ethnographers’ interpretation of their findings is influenced by their own history and background, the narrative we weave around these objects tells more about ourselves than about the artist. We filter these images and fabricate a myth where we can reinvent or escape our own reality. 

still from Mantle Piece short film

Bennett’s skill as a myth-maker is to instil those everyday trinkets with mysterious and uncanny energy before releasing them on the audience.
The contrast between light and dark is a crucial device throughout her practice. She relates it to the current argument that our society may be moving away from the age of Enlightenment regulated by science and empirical study and returning to the Dark Ages, a shadowy period of history dominated by legend and superstition.

untitled, carpet series, 100x120cm mixed media

Inspired by the carpet in her sitting room, she has produced a mesmerizing series of paintings saturated with glare lighting. She discovered this effect through some flash flooded photographs she once took, a happy mistake she found particularly evocative and that intensifies the duality of familiar and strange. The central pool of brightness emphasises the exuberant floral pattern but the overall mood remains ambiguous and even threatening with the dark edges closing in all around. 

Cornflakes and Coke  120x140cm, mixed media on board
Art in Healthcare collection

Her work in the Art in Healthcare collection, Cornflakes and Coke, is a large painting that offers a daytime peek into her family life. The palette is softly toned and light pours into the room through the window and the half-drawn curtain. We recognise the motifs on the carpet. We also catch a glimpse of the fireplace on the right-hand side. The glare effect of the sun is achieved by practically draining the centre of the carpet from all its colours but instead of suggesting dark outer shadows, the artist has created a sense of haze by roughly sketching the surrounding furniture and wall features with pencil marks instead of paint. The scene is peaceful domestic bliss, in sharp contrast to her night time forays into darkness.

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

With thanks to Nicole Bennett

DJCAD Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design

Further reading:
De Maistre, Xavier A Journey Around My Room

And special thanks to Balfour Beatty Investments and Arts & Business Scotland for their financial support, which has enabled Art in Healthcare to produce 18 Artist Uncovered blog posts and accompanying video productions.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Art and Autism

I first heard about Andrew when I was working at Leith School of Art in 2004. Andrew had been attending classes since the school opened in 1989. His style is unmistakable in that he has an absolute unwavering attention to detail. For example, whereas the other students will create expressive representations with paint of the plants used in a still life setup, Andrew will paint every single leaf. He also doesn't really like anyone standing too close to him, although I’m kind of the same in that respect when I’m painting. However, it's the way Andrew views AND captures the world in paint that makes him such a unique artist.

I’ve always been fascinated with Andrew’s art and although I rarely ever saw him because I only worked Saturday’s at the school, I would immediately recognise his oil paintings before anyone else’s as they hung on the wall drying with all the other students' work.

About a month ago I was at my local cafĂ© that I visit religiously every morning for a much needed strong coffee before work and John, the "white van man" (who is also usually there every morning for his caffeine fix) mentioned that he had a load of artwork to be picked up at a flat in town and he wondered if Art in Healthcare would like it. He said the artist’s father had just died and as the artist was autistic, and his mother was also no longer alive, the estate was being sorted out by a law firm. John was hired to go to the residence to organise, document and pack up all the belongings and the lawyers weren't sure what to do with the rooms full or art. No one else seemed to want it.  

Just out of curiosity as I figured it was rather highly unlikely, I asked John, “Do you know if the artist is called Andrew Gilchrist?” I couldn't believe it when he said he was. John explained that it was Andrew’s father who kept all the work and Andrew really didn’t have much to do with it after he finished it. I assume Andrew enjoys the process of creating more than having a completed artwork to look at. At least this is what I think. I have a lot of questions and I plan on meeting with Andrew’s main teacher at the art school to find out a little more. The lawyer in charge of the estate provided me with the email address of Andrew's cousin, who will also hopefully be able to give me a little more information about Andrew and his painting. 

So here we are now. Art in Healthcare has a huge body of artwork (literally hundreds of pieces) by a very unique and talented artist. I would very much like to organise an exhibition to showcase this wonderful work but also to try to shed some light on how autistic artists engage with the world and the positive affect creativity has with regards to health and wellbeing. 

I think Andrew’s work is important. It tells an exciting story and it provides some insight into autism. I plan to apply for funding to help with costs such as framing the work, securing a venue, perhaps a book, advertising etc. We'll possibly accession some of Andrew's artwork into the Art in Healthcare Collection to display in hospitals and then we'll be selling the rest of the work to raise funds for the charity and to help cover exhibition costs. I'm sure a lot of people would love to have an original A. Gilchrist in their homes to admire. I don't know what Andrew's financial situation is but it would be nice to give something back to him if the exhibition was successful. If you have any questions, advice, suggestions etc please don’t hesitate to contact me at

Trevor Jones

Executive Director

Art in Healthcare

What exactly did Art in Healthcare get up to at the 2013 Edinburgh Art Fair?

Outreach Manager, Amelia Calvert, gives a brief overview of the event..
AiH's stall by the main entrance
Writing from the comfort of my desk with a cup of tea beside me is a far cry from what was the bustle of the Edinburgh Art Fair (EAF) four weeks ago! Art in Healthcare’s (AiH) presence over the course of the 3-day weekend was nothing but action-packed with little time for sitting drinking tea and, due to the fun buzz of the occasion, nor did I wish to be doing so. Contrarily I felt that as an AiH employee helping to oversee our various activities and volunteers it was a real privilege to be in attendance at the event. The EAF in itself was clearly a massive undertaking in terms of the coordination of hundreds of different individuals and organisations so a huge well done to Andy and Lorna McDougall who masterminded and oversaw the project in its’ entirety.
One of the children's workshops in the foreground and Jacqueline Watt's demonstration in the background
So what exactly was AiH’s role there? Largely to provide a range of workshops for children, painting demonstrations and talks for adults, plus the opportunity for visitors to buy some of our prestigious prints and to learn about the services we provide as an organisation. Additionally, we put up for sale a selection of artwork by those artists from our Collection who had been involved in AiH’s workshops and talks programme at the EAF, hereby supporting local artists with their own endeavours.

In order for all of our activities to take place, we had a superb team of volunteers and interns who were well briefed in advance about their various roles throughout the EAF, albeit helping with the workshops, manning our information stand, helping with the sales of our artworks, taking photographs and video footage and generally being on hand for miscellaneous tasks. Their help was invaluable and enabled us to have the successful presence at the EAF that we did.
One happy family of participants from the art workshops!
The childrens’ workshops were particularly successful with artist Leo du Feu barely drawing breath through each of his 3 per day 1hr long sessions that he ran. With thanks to Great Art for generously donating all of the art materials used throughout the weekend, the results were a wide selection of colourful, lively and imaginative creations that the children could take home, probably for sticking on the kitchen fridge! Jacqueline Watt and Alan McGowan both ran fascinating, if very different to each other, painting demonstrations relating to their own individual practice, and captivated their audiences with their skills and creativity. Kate Downie gave a talk about the influence of bridges in her art, which attracted a large number of listeners and myself and Trevor, AiH’s Director, gave talks with insights into different themes relating to our work for AiH. Meanwhile, Damian Callan created a magnificent ‘Art in Motion’ over the course of the weekend - essentially a gigantic artwork he drew of the EAF at the EAF, which is to be sold with all proceeds going directly to AiH.
Damian Callan's 'Art in Motion' - one giant artwork of the EAF created over the weekend
With over 12,000 people pouring through the doors over the 3 days of the EAF, a record number of visitors surpassing all previous years, we felt sure that AiH had been given a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness about themselves and gather momentum for the year of 2014 lying not far ahead. We also felt a distinct ‘cameraderie’ between ourselves - volunteers, interns, staff members and artists, and everyone else – other galleries, visitors and organising staff. What a great feat to put on such a feast for the eyes with all that artwork on display and with such a jolly atmosphere. We are greatly looking forward to next year already to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the EAF…

You can watch a film about AiH’s involvement at the EAF by clicking heremade by one of our volunteers, Will Murray Brown. 

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Looking for a very unique Christmas gift?

Adopt your favourite artwork from our Collection and help our charity support Scottish artists, display more uplifting artwork in healthcare settings and provide fun-filled art workshops for patients and care home residents.

Beach Tent by Jack Knox

Since 1991 our charity has been assembling one of the largest and most prestigious Collections of original Scottish art in the country. These artworks are uniquely available for display in hospitals and other healthcare settings.

Art in Healthcare is truly committed to the important role that art plays in the healing environment but we need your help to properly maintain and build this unique Collection for the enjoyment and benefit of the hundreds of thousands of staff, patients and visitors who view it each year.

Winter Trees and Townscape by Gordon Byrce

Portrait of the Poet by Steven Campbell
Adopt an artwork from our Collection for just £3 a month and you'll receive:

  • Your name (or a loved one's) written next to your chosen artwork online (view example)
  • A certificate of adoption with a picture of the artwork
  • Invites to Art in Healthcare's special events
  • Double your chances of winning our artwork giveaways
  • First to view our latest Prestigious Print
  • Our colourful e-newsletter

With your help we're able to:

  • Keep our Collection on display in hospitals and care homes
  • Support young artists at their degree shows
  • Buy artwork from professional artists
  • Provide fun-filled art workshops at hospitals, hospices, care homes and more
  • Develop our training programmes for volunteers 

Zoom Bird and Bees by Pat Douthwaite

Click the paint brush and palette to view all the artworks available for adoption now.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Artist Uncovered: George Donald

Fusion Painting

"Your brain is processing constantly millions of impressions and the more you look the more you remember... you have a warehouse of memories in your mind. Then you work in the studio, you distill, you make things that satisfy you, that delight you, that unburden you of imagery."

The tranquillity of the Scottish Arts Club lounge belies the hustle and bustle of nearby Princes Street’s Christmas shopping frenzy. George Donald looks at odds in these sedate surroundings for he is bursting with energy and ideas.

To interview George Donald is to go on a whirlwind journey around the world to the places he has visited and lived in. Born in Southern India of a Scottish colonial family, he was immersed from a very young age in the two countries’ contrasting cultures. 

Dance  etching with collage 86x98cm
AiH collection

These early experiences and subsequent numerous travels have sharpened his “antennae” for visual stimuli while the study of worldwide diaspora has developed his aptitude for making unexpected connections between countries and even eras. He has over the years stored up a whole “warehouse” of images, all waiting for a signal to resurface when he least expects it and wherever he may be, here in Edinburgh or in a Kyoto garden, in China, India or Australia. 

Kyoto Garden  mixed media 78x97cm
AiH collection

Consequently his prints and paintings are delightful juxtapositions of images and patterns that deliberately clash with one another so as to pique our curiosity. Printmaking informed his painting rather than the other way round and particularly chine collĂ©, a process where tissue paper is pressed into the print, lends itself perfectly to this layering. But not content with simply following the established method, he has developed his own technique by hand-colouring and tearing the paper and using it to add emphasis here and there to stimulate the eye. 

Evening Song  screenprint A/P 71x85cm
AiH collection

This innovative approach is characteristic of his inclination to challenge the status quo such as his decision in mid career to go and study for a four years part-time Master degree course in Education and Philosophy at Edinburgh University. This was in the late 1970s at a time of radical changes to the education system in the UK. Rather than just “grumble about it”, George went and learnt about governmental policy making. Years later he would use this theoretical expertise to push for the creation of a part-time degree at Edinburgh College of Art. And many of us are very grateful that he did.

Balinese Woman  oil 41x46cm
AiH Collection

In his portraits, the subject often sustains our gaze intently.  When I query this with him, George evokes the paintings of the wives of Spanish conquistadores he saw in the Dominican Republic where, painted rather awkwardly in faded court fineries, the young brides look at the viewer as though stunned by the realisation of their doomed fate so far from home. Their eyes haunt him still.           
Renaissance Piece mixed media on board  60x54cm
courtesy of the artist

For this master of anatomy, the human body, the way people stand, facial expressions, someone’s shaven head, all are a constant source of fascination and inspiration. The Renaissance with its elegant costumes and music is also very much part of his work and his life as I learn that he has been a practiced chorister since childhood. Later he joined the Edinburgh University Singers, leading a double life, a scruffy art student by day and a smartly dressed performer at evening performances.

It may come as a surprise to learn that George Donald admires minimalist artists who convey so much with so little and that he wishes his work was “less complicated”. His trip to Japan was especially intended to study its calm and ordered sense of composition. 

Silver River mixed media 80x97cm
2013 RSA Summer Show
courtesy of the artist

The paintings he exhibited in the 2013 Royal Scottish Academy Summer Show reflect this recent “de-cluttered” approach. Without the usual patterned borders and patchwork effect the elements appear to be floating on the canvas, but this does not diminish the impact at all as the fusion of cultures through metaphors is as powerful as ever.

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

With thanks to George Donald.

Art in Healthcare Artist Uncovered film
George Donald RSA RSW
Edinburgh University Singers
Royal Scottish Academy
Scottish Arts Club

And special thanks to Balfour Beatty Investments and Arts & Business Scotland for their financial support, which has enabled Art in Healthcare to produce 18 Artist Uncovered blog posts and accompanying video productions.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Artist Uncovered: Cat Outram

Liberating constraints

An etcher with thirty years experience Cat Outram practises in Edinburgh Printmakers studio where we meet. She is well known for her beautifully detailed and linear black and white drawings of Edinburgh and the varied Scottish landscape and for her studies of plants and objects. Is it purely coincidental that an enduring first impression of the UK as a seven year-old, is the snowy scenery that met her upon her arrival from Kenya?

Winter twilight 29x50cms
image courtesy of the artist

It was while studying Drawing and Painting at Edinburgh College of Art that she discovered printmaking. She took to it like a duck to water and promptly abandoned her paints and brushes much to the consternation of her D&P tutors!
Monochrome etching complements perfectly her fascination with light and tone and she thrives on the challenges it presents. In her preparatory sketches, she has trained herself to drain the colours out of the picture much like the process of black and white photography. She mentions Ansel Adams as particularly inspirational.

Top Flat Panorama 29x73cms
image courtesy of the artist

It is well-known that artists creativity is stirred up when faced with a challenge either self-imposed or brought upon them. Monet and his experiments with light and Matisse and his collages particularly come to mind. Outram explains that she decided to become an artist following the birth of her two sons and the ensuing restrictions on her time and movements. This career fitted well with her commitments and the necessity of making a living and enabled her to transcend her homebound circumstances. Her window series are particularly poignant and evocative of that period.

Seedheads 49x21cms
AiH collection, image courtesy of the artist

When she decided to introduce colours into her work, she had to find a way to do so within the technical constraints of printmaking and within her own range of skills. Unlike lithography or screenprinting where colour is an integral part of the process from the start, with etching, each colour requires a different plate. This is a painstaking process that needs great accuracy from the printmaker who has to line up each plate perfectly with the marks of the previous impression. She admits struggling with this level of precision and often ends up with rejects.

Snow with Beech Leaves  30x21cms
image courtesy of the artist

The artist had to find a solution to get round this problem. At that time, one of her sons, now grown-up, was in China and she reminded herself that Chinese art often introduces one colour only in a drawing to great effect. She promptly saw the potential for her etchings and has since made this single coloured spot distinctive of her style.

Earlier this year Outram took part in a collaborative project organised jointly by the Scottish Poetry Library and Edinburgh Printmakers that brought together twenty-four poets and twenty-four printmakers. The remit was very open but like etching, poetry is a discipline rich in constraints, rhyme, form and vocabulary among many others. When she and Ken Cockburn the poet discovered this shared characteristic in their respective practices they both set out to introduce parameters in their project for inspiration. The culmination of these collaborations is exhibited this month in both the SPL and EP gallery.

Close up, Possible Connections  29x42cms
image courtesy of the artist

Cat Outram had been searching for ways of expressing ideas through her art and she is now thinking about using her own words in her work. With this introduction of words and possibly, the use of a brush instead of the traditional needle to draw with, it is clear that at this point in her life when she has more time to devote to her practice than ever before, the artist is already looking for fresh boundaries and challenges that will continue to sustain and renew her imagination.

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

With thanks to Cat Outram.

Related links:
Edinburgh Printmakers 'The Written Image'
Scottish Poetry Library 'The Spoken Image'

And special thanks to Balfour Beatty Investments and Arts & Business Scotland for their financial support, which has enabled Art in Healthcare to produce 18 Artist Uncovered blog posts and accompanying video productions.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Artist Uncovered: Alan McGowan

"All good and genuine draftsmen draw according to the picture inscribed in their minds, and not according to nature." Charles Baudelaire

We meet in Edinburgh’s City Art Centre cafe across the road from Waverley station, a couple of hours before Alan McGowan catches a train due south for a week-long teaching residency. 
This artist who will be leading two painting workshops for Art in Healthcare at the Edinburgh Art Fair next month, has no work in the collection yet but this is about to change. 

McGowan has a busy peripatetic practice that takes him all over the UK and Ireland teaching drawing, anatomy and painting. A freelance career was not always the norm for this educator who was once based in the University of Northumbria until the gradual exclusion of drawing from art schools, an upshot of last century’s Modernist thrust, prompted him to take the life-changing decision of jumping ship. 

Seated 1 
mixed media, 57x40 cms
image courtesy of the artist

That is how passionately McGowan feels about drawing and more particularly life-drawing. He refutes eloquently the argument dealt against his discipline of choice that it is only a skill that requires no intellectual discourse:
“The way one draws is connected to how one thinks and interacts with the world. We reveal our vision of the world through our own process of drawing.” 
Anybody who has attended a life-drawing class will know that everybody draws the same model differently. We each alter and distort what is in front of us in our own distinctive way into a representation of reality rather than a faithful reproduction. 

Dissolve 2
mixed media, 67x84cms
image courtesy of the artist

His commitment to life-drawing did not signal in McGowan a return to classicist principles. On the contrary he wanted to be regarded as a contemporary artist, a radical move at the time when conceptual art and installations were the avant-garde. 
And so he went back to basics, re-learning to draw and see without the pseudo narrative that his training in illustration had taught him. All the time he was experimenting with techniques and materials, questioning his purpose and reading from thinkers as diverse as Montaigne, Proust and Camus to name a few. 
Untitled Figure
mixed media, 56x66cms
image courtesy of the artist

McGowan describes his relationship with portraiture as “strange”. He explains that it is more about connecting with humanity than about the individual. His models’ facial features are often only hinted at or hidden, his brush strokes probing deep below the naked skin for the elusive essential being and shared consciousness within.
Then he realised that all the drawings he had accumulated over the years amounted to a coherent body of work that backed up his argument that “there is an intellectual basis in drawing” and as such they needed to be shown.
An exhibition followed together with the publication in 2012 of a catalogue entitled The Language of the Body: Figure Drawings in Four Chapters with each of the 64 coloured plates displaying his expressionist style and fauvist palette. The book is divided into four categories ‘Between’, ‘Dissolve’, ‘Language’ and ‘See’. The only text is in the quotations that accompany each heading. This self-imposed restraint allows the readers to make their own connections.
mixed media, 57x84cms
image courtesy of the artist

Alan McGowan’s relationship with portraiture is not only his and the model’s but also ours, the viewers, as we bring our own thoughts and circumstances into the reading of the work. When hung in a healthcare setting, it is guaranteed to stop people in their track. It will take on new meanings and provoke a variety of interpretations and emotions in patients, medical staff and visitors. This is the measure of the artist’s success in his endeavour. 

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

With thanks to Alan McGowan.

Alan McGowan is one of six artists involved with Art in Healthcare at the Edinburgh Art Fair in Edinburgh Corn Exchange (15-17 November). He will be giving two demonstrations on 'Painting from preparatory sketches' on Friday 15. For more details and the full programme go to

Alan McGowan The Language of the Body- Figure Drawings in Four Chapters
published in 2012 by SATURATION, Edinburgh ISBN 978-0-9572428-0-7

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Pondering Evaluation

Do you work at a charity and have some involvement with evaluations, impact measurement or report-writing for funders? What works for you and what are the challenges?

In my role as Outreach Manager at Art in Healthcare (AiH) I constantly find myself thinking about our mission, aims and objectives, ensuring that our outreach programme stays focused and relevant to the organisation as a whole. Furthermore, I am very aware that evaluating our services and gathering feedback are key processes that we must incorporate into our daily activities as both educational and a check that our services are proving worthwhile and effective. Unsurprisingly, each round of feedback we gain comes with at least one suggestion or comment that has implications for a slight re-shape of how we do, what we do. To me this is natural development – services are only as worthwhile as they are appreciated by service-users thus organisations are responsible for regular monitoring of their service provision by means of informing this natural development.
Workshop at 'Art from Art' Exhibition, February 2013
I recently attended an event run by Evaluation Support Scotland, an organisation whose aim is ‘to make evaluation valuable, relevant and proportionate’ by supporting voluntary organisations and funders with measurement and reporting of their impact. (See for further details). I quickly became aware that we are not alone at AiH in questioning the effectiveness of feedback forms, of wondering how best to maximise participation in feedback provision and maximising the utility of feedback, largely qualitative, once gained.

I was also especially interested to have some discussion time at the event with funders since, as a project-related fundraiser myself, I often wonder how best to ‘please’ funders with feedback reports at the end of projects, as well as ways to best sell project proposals based on feedback from previous pilot projects.

I should not have been surprised that funders are actually as conscious about their own evaluation processes almost as much as those they fund and part of the reason they often request thorough reports at the end of projects is by means of having their own source of evaluation for their own service provision. It seems everyone is therefore thinking about evaluation and about how best to capture the services they provide for passing on to others.

Art Workshop at Sunnyside Court, July 2013

Being a very visual person, I recently decided to put together a photo book including quotations and story-telling relating to our recent outreach programme at the sheltered housing block, Sunnyside Court in Morningside, run by Hanover Housing Association. To me this neatly gets across the success of our art workshops – pages of happy faces working together on a variety of creative projects, paired with inspiring quotes taken directly from participants’ feedback forms at the end of the project. For me this is evaluation, and a positive one at that, in a nutshell and is something I would gladly show funders, prospective participants and clients alike going forward. (See for a PDF version of the photobook).

Meanwhile, we shall no doubt continue to develop our evaluation methods as we continue to develop our outreach programme and ensure that our services are both valued and evaluated.

Do get in touch with your thoughts on evaluations – what works for you as an organisation? How do you monitor your services and do you feel ‘in touch’ with your service users? What about funders?

Written by Amelia Calvert, Outreach Manager for Art in Healthcare

Monday, 16 September 2013

Art Workshops at Sunnyside Court

Outreach Manager for Art in Healthcare, Amelia Calvert, discusses a recent success of the outreach programme in a sheltered housing complex. 

 July and August saw the start of Art in Healthcare’s 2013/14 outreach programme, building on what went before with ‘Art from Art’ (see blog entry, This involved a five-week long series of art workshops at the sheltered housing complex, Sunnyside Court, part of Hanover Housing Association, in Morningside, culminating in an exhibition in the complex of all the artworks that had been created during the programme.
Some of the residents and artist, Emily Learmont (third from right) at the final exhibition
While the exhibition itself was clearly a hub of merriment, excitement and proud artists showing their works, it was the workshops themselves with the quiet, contented and diligent concentration of every participant that was the most memorable about this programme.
The workshops were facilitated by artist, Emily Learmont, who had run art workshops for AiH in the past, along with the help of a couple of AiH volunteers. Emily commented at the end that it was “a memorable experience” and that everyone was “hugging me goodbye!” Clearly she had had a great effect on the group with her gentle teaching manner and skill at art.

The programme came about after Edinburgh Decorative Fine Arts Society generously donated £5,000 to AiH earlier in 2013, part of which AiH decided to spend specifically on an art workshop programme in a sheltered housing complex around Edinburgh – a new venture having previously focused on workshops in Hospitals, Care Homes and care-related charities. We heard about Sunnyside Court where at least 9 residents were very interested in doing art workshop and the sheltered housing manager, Mary Riseborough, helped to develop the link and start the programme.

Mary herself took part in one of the workshops and was heard to comment, “I could just feel the happy atmosphere…[I was] totally engrossed”. At the end of the programme, she added, “The way in which they have encouraged one another has been inspirational…[and] the community spirit has been great”.

Indeed, participants seemed to highly value the experience and when asked about what they enjoyed, comments collected via feedback forms reported: “Everything…having fun”; “chance to express myself in art form”; “I didn’t think I could do it!”; “the company – really good. Keeps me going”; “doing things I’ve never done before…working with other people…very pleased with what I did”; “togetherness”; “I found it all encouraging and exciting, very stimulating and I learned a great deal about art creation”.

When asked about what went well, comments from participants included: “The group support and friendships which encouraged both the painting and creating of work and the desire not to finish the experience”; “Everyone felt they achieved something they would not have believed when they started”.

Clearly the art workshops were about more than just creativity for the participants but about the coming together with others to create, and the opportunity for them to try something new with the support of people around them.

What happens next, now that the AiH workshop series and exhibition are past? From early on in the series, the group clearly wanted to make art workshops a regular feature in the lounge of Sunnyside Court and not just as an informal get-together amongst themselves but with the added value of a visiting artist to impart knowledge, teach them new skills and further engage them in the world of visual arts. So the group are planning to apply for funding themselves, which would enable them to effectively buy a series of workshops for a longer period of time at Sunnyside Court.

Meanwhile, AiH intends to do more workshops in sheltered housing in due course, dependent on our funding, so watch this space…

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Artist Uncovered: Emily Learmont (nee Bakker)

Martine F Pugh meets the artist and supporter of Art in Healthcare.

Emily Learmont pours tea into delicate blue and white china and shows me through to her studio-cum-sitting room. She explains in a soft and clear voice that she comes from an artistic family and that she always loved drawing as a child, not on scraps of paper but on the blank side of redundant architectural drawings her father brought home from work. 

After school, she chose to study at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) which in the late 1980's was buzzing with excitement.

Glasgow Street Scene  oil, 185 x 154cm
AiH collection

The GSA figurative tradition suited her interest in people. Her paintings of that period in the Art in Healthcare (AiH) collection are expressive street scenes that show her keen sense of observation rendered with the flat perspective characteristic of Chinese, Japanese or Persian arts that still fascinate her today.

The Rainy Day   oil,  124 x 154cm
AiH collection

Her inclination towards the fine arts was honed further still when Emily secured a postgraduate place at the Royal Academy (RA) School in London. She thoroughly enjoyed her time in the small department tucked away behind the grand RA buildings, sneaking out regularly to the galleries for her breaks still wearing her painting clothes, to feast her eyes on “beautiful things”. 

When she returned to Edinburgh in 2000, she was commissioned by AiH to work with children in hospitals to find out what they would like to see on the walls around them. Holidays and sunny beaches were at the top of their wish list prompting her to produce a series of joyful paintings. 

Beachcomber’s Mermaid   oil, 65 x 79cm
AiH collection

The Art in Healthcare collection has no less than thirteen of her paintings of which four are wonderful swimming pool scenes that convey a feeling of weightlessness and escapism. This series coincided with a period of ill-health which led her to spend much time relaxing and exercising in the pool. 

Drumsheugh Swimming Pool   oil,  184 x 152cm
AiH collection

This experience heightened Emily’s understanding of the need of healthcare patients and her appreciation of the work AiH do. 

“I really like the fact that my paintings are in AiH. I think art is such a good thing to have in a healthcare setting and doing art as well is a brilliant thing to do. I am pleased to have made that connection, that my work is going to be in hospital and hopefully that it’s going to cheer somebody up, that’s really important to me.”

When she found large oil canvasses too strenuous physically, she switched to watercolours and produced a series of illustrative paintings of angels and archangels for the Edinburgh-based Scottish Storytelling Centre Christmas 2009 exhibition. She found this new direction therapeutic.

Archangel   watercolour,  70 x 50 cm
image courtesy of the artist

When she recovered her full health, she started painting with oils again but her technique had changed, smooth layers and glazes had replaced the thick impasto. This radical shift is perfectly suited to her new subject matter, angels, dragons, the creatures and landscapes of her imagination that she conjures up in great details with linear and precise brush strokes. 

Emily Learmont’s painterly practice today is in harmony with her other pursuits. It absorbs her research for gallery talks on Scottish and Renaissance masters, George Jameson, John Duncan and Botticelli being particular favourites, and her current involvement with patients in healthcare settings. 
Her style may have changed since her earlier paintings, but her rationale is still about transcendence of the mundane which she now conveys with fantastic realism.

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

With thanks to Emily Learmont.


The Glasgow School of Art
The Royal Academy Schools
Scottish Storytelling Centre