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.