Katie Tomkins - Mortuary & Post Mortem Services Manager at West Hertfordshire NHS Trust by Roxana Halls (2020) by Roxana HallsPaintings in Hospitals
Katie Tompkins - Mortuary & Post Mortem Services Manager
I was asked to paint Katie Tomkins, Mortuary & Post Mortem Services Manager by her colleague Natalie Miles-Kemp on behalf of West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust with the intention that the portrait will tour the hospitals over the next 18 months to ensure the maximum exposure and prominence in recognition not only of the work itself but also as part of a wider memorial to the events of 2020.
Katie was nominated by the Trust in recognition of her outstanding leadership through the Covid-19 crisis and in celebration of her extraordinary courage, working in the less discussed field of mortuary care.
When I ‘met’ Katie via video link and learned more about her role during the crisis I was awe-struck by her extraordinary strength and tenderness during this most challenging of situations, but also by her unconventional, distinctive appearance: her body art and tattoos belying the uniformity of her scrubs and PPE.
In combination with her 'contemporariness' her style suggested for me something of the Rosie the Riveter archetype and the wartime portraits of Dame Laura Knight.
I hoped with my portrait to evoke something of the focus, resolve and heroism of Knight’s subjects, placing Katie within the sanitized realm of her highly-skilled and indescribably challenging work, simultaneously appraising the day passed while readying herself for the demands of the next day to come.
Dr Salman Visiting His Family (2020) by Nick RichardsPaintings in Hospitals
Dr Salman Visiting his Family
In making my selection of works from among so many wonderful portraits I wanted to focus on the paintings which most eloquently tell the story of these strange times through the use of narrative and compositional devices, of which Nick Richard’s piece is a great example.
To imbue what is really a very small piece with such emotional power with such economy is a feat larger than the work’s dimensions. The glass through which this family is connected and yet held apart is completely tangible despite the impressionistic brushwork.
Jake - Remote Paramedic (2020) by Niki GibbsPaintings in Hospitals
This portrait is a strong example of how, with the introduction of just one compositional element, an artist can transform what might otherwise have been a fairly mundane image of a person at work into a very affecting image. So many NHS workers have found themselves in unprecedented times, having to find a way to deliver essential care through such unfamiliar and disassociated means.
In Niki’s work we see paramedic Jake at his workstation delivering care to a vulnerable family. His presence may be virtual, but by his gentle expression and the small clues in the image of his own family below and even the neglect of his snack we understand that his competence and comfort is not.
Nurse Leah (2020) by Karena Ryan textilesPaintings in Hospitals
I was initially drawn to the unconventional use of textile, stitch and applique used in the making of this portrait and the way in which the artist has woven in glimpses of the subject’s biography. The colours used reference both NHS blue and that of Leah's Irish heritage merging with the UK flag, while the scrap of map locates her at her current Luton hospital location.
This portrait I've now discovered is part of a whole series of nurses and doctors from hospitals internationally, many of which are sewn directly onto pre-covid uniforms and scrubs.
Stitch as a form is so often associated with decoration and craft, but artists are increasingly using the medium in unexpected and even subversive ways and the use of Covid-19 related text here and of course the face mask Leah wears nods at this trend, creating a distinctive portrait.
Essential (2020) by Lauren Carter-BridgesPaintings in Hospitals
Lauren's portrait is, as much as being a striking and beautifully painted piece, a fantastic example of how the incorporation of the chance element, rather than just persisting with your initial vision for a painting, can be the very thing that makes it special.
Before taking the reference shot for the intended pose, the subjects' daughters got themselves dressed in Wonder Woman outfits before clinging to their mother as the photograph was taken. These costumes and the girl's fearful upward gaze remind us that heroism is a worthy aspiration but a hard road.
While a relatively straightforward pose with a composition removed from context the mother's and daughter's expressions and gestures speak to us with direct intensity of the complex emotions this family is facing in negotiating their way through the tough moment they face together.
Joy and the Daffodils (2020) by Alix PhilippePaintings in Hospitals
Joy & The Daffodils
Sometimes it is with the simplest and seemingly lightest of gestures that a painting can be imbued with emotion, and this work is a fine example. A vase of daffodils, those humblest of flowers, is being arranged by a young nurse, we assume to brighten the ward on which she works.
We can't in this context consider these blooms without simultaneously associating them with the hopefulness of spring and rebirth but also of the flowers not laid by the families of those who have lost loved ones to Covid-19. So many of our care-workers have provided such comfort to those affected where those closest to them could not. This painting, with a delicate touch, seems to speak of their tenderness.
Explore the exhibition with Adebanjia Alade - VP of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters