Creating my Portrait

Artist Jane Clatworthy writes about the process of taking part in the exhibition

Dr Will Hunter (2020) by Jane ClatworthyPaintings in Hospitals

Tom Croft’s initiative “Portraits for NHS Heroes” sprung from a deep well of gratitude towards the staff of the NHS for all they were having to endure, risk, and shoulder during the wretched months at the peak of the pandemic. 

Over and above the weekly clap, it was a wonderful, more personal way to express heartfelt thanks to those working so hard to keep life going in the face of almost insurmountable odds; a small way to honour those making a tremendous personal sacrifice on our collective behalf.

When the pandemic suddenly and unnervingly dismantled the structure of our lives, making art during such a crisis seemed a small insignificance on which to focus our attention. As a result, many of us artists became disconnected from the importance, necessity, and worth of our particular gifts. 

Georgina (2020) by Jane ClatworthyPaintings in Hospitals

 For my own part, I welcomed the lifeline of not only being given a focused reason to paint, but a way to express the respect and empathy I felt for those having to face the devastation of Covid-19 every day.

Both doctors I painted were proposed by their friends or family members. Once they agreed to be part of the project, I met each of them separately via Zoom.  I first met Will, followed by Georgina a couple of weeks later. What I found when I met them, were two young doctors, each in self-isolation and physically alone due to their daily exposure to the virus. Both were on their day off but not quite able to disconnect from the realities of the pandemic, each still grappling with and processing what seemed an almost surreal situation.

 As we searched for language to describe what was still at that time, an undefinable experience for everyone, the word weird came up again and again. We touched on grief, loss and the emotional impacts of the pandemic. I observed that not only were they having to process their own reactions to this sudden new reality and all the losses it had forced upon them, but they were also having to experience first-hand the very real grief and suffering of families thrown into despair. It is a tremendous emotional burden.

I told each of them that they could choose however they wished to be painted, I asked only that they didn’t send me reference photos with great big toothy smiles - not because I didn’t want them smiling, I simply (and perhaps selfishly) did not want to paint teeth.  I would leave the final choice of image up to them.

What I didn’t expect was to receive images that carried such significant emotional weight. I was moved to tears, and very humbled by the selection of images that both doctors sent through to me. They responded with tremendous authenticity, both choosing to reveal the raw emotion of what this pandemic was asking of them. 

Dr Will Hunter (2020) by Jane ClatworthyPaintings in Hospitals

Will chose an image that spoke to how he was feeling at the time we spoke.

Georgina (2020) by Jane ClatworthyPaintings in Hospitals

 Georgina chose to share where she goes to try and decompress after her shift in the ICU.

 I was extremely grateful to be given such powerful references from which to work, it made it that much easier for me, as the mere painter, to capture the gravity of their moment, to honour their vulnerability, and the trust they had in sharing it with me.

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