Twenty-eight members of staff took part as sitters. Margaret Flannery, Arts Director of Galway University Hospitals Arts Trust (GUHAT), curated and instigated the project and Róisín Curé was the artist.
Patients and their families can often feel overwhelmed by the number of different staff they meet during the course of their treatment or hospital stay. The aim of the project is to help patients more clearly identify the role of the staff member caring for them, particularly so that they feel able to put their questions to the right people.
The images will be used for a poster campaign throughout University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park University Hospital, in the departments relevant to each sitter, to maximise their reach.
The project was instigated in conjunction with the #hellomynameis campaign to help improve patients’ experience.
Margaret Flannery from GUHAT had seen posters in UK hospitals with photos of staff on them, designed to help you know who you’re dealing with by their uniform. In a world where we’re all bombarded with photos of each other, Margaret decided that painted portraits of the staff in uniform would be more arresting. That’s where artist Róisín Curé came in.
Róisín is practiced and experienced in the art of drawing from observation and as such was confident in drawing each sitter from life. Staff members sat for an hour each, give or take ten minutes; all of them were needed at their stations, and some came in to give their time after hours.
Before Róisín began, she was determined to just make impressions of their faces – the important thing was their uniforms, after all. But once she began to sketch, her natural inclination to draw things as they are took control and she drew the sitters as she saw them.
Each sitter faced Róisín, their image filling a sheet of watercolour paper measuring 297 x 400mm. The materials used were ink and watercolour.
Róisín faced a number of logistical issues in creating the portraits, to name just a few:
How would she complete each portrait in such a short period? The danger for Róisín was the great time thief – chat. The natural temptation is to fall into conversation and get to know the sitter. Chatting also means the sitter’s mouth and expression will change, which makes drawing their portrait harder. Róisín’s solution was to wear headphones and listen to an audiobook. This helped her get into the zone quickly and created a natural barrier to communication.
With such time pressure, Róisín also needed to keep her line fresh and fluid without error so she drew very fast and used a free-flowing fountain pen.
Another tricky issue was that the colours had to be accurate, as uniforms needed to be reflected as they were. The logos on the tops had to be painted accurately, but they were fiddly and small. Róisín’s solution was to take photos of the logos and work them up afterwards. If a colour was very deep (eg. black) extra layers were added later.
The final project comprised 28 paintings, framed individually. Each sitter was gifted a print of their own portrait.
The outcomes of the project were discussed verbally between curator Margaret Flannery and artist Róisín Curé, and feedback was obtained by members of the public.
The project had a much more dramatic impact than the artist had anticipated. The sitters themselves seemed touched and sometimes honoured to pose, after a very slow start to get volunteers. They often said that they were unused to being still. One man clearly felt anxious to be back in the emergency room and one sitter found someone to fill in for her in ‘Resuscitation’. Róisín was deeply moved by the commitment they showed and the urgency of their jobs.
As for the public, their reactions surprised the artist. People seemed to relate to the humanity of the sitters in a big way: one person told the artist that her young daughter said ‘those people look like so much fun.‘ Another said there was great energy to the sitters.
The reaction from the artist’s online followers took her by surprise the most: ‘I think the fact that in general people who sit for portraits are not in the uniforms of hospital workers was what made the impact – and the fact that everyone has had occasion to use the hospital at some stage, in vulnerable situations. The project was as if the urbane and inaccessible world of “art” collided with the harsh reality of mortality, with these kind people at the interface.’
Documentation and Dissemination
Róisín Curé documented the project on her personal blog: roisincure.com/wp/drawing-carers-portraits-hospital-life/