Scene Unseen II 9th May - 1st
For some time Frances Newman has been making drawings which show people at work. Her 2007 exhibition at The
Stables Gallery, Brent, focussed on printers in an East London firm. The current selection is the result of a period of eighteen months of visual study in this hospital.
A large institution such as UCLH is staffed by a considerable number of people, doing a range of jobs; many of whom will perhaps not be noticed by patients or visitors. Newman has spent time with some of these, who agreed that she draw and photograph them.
While there is a historical tradition of artists making paintings to express the idea of ‘the worker' this is not what we find in the drawings on display; here we have, instead, individuals who are working. What we see are distinct personalities intent on their particular tasks. The drawings suggest a reciprocity of trust between the artist and those she was following; there is none of the self-consciousness which often creeps in to the formal portrait sitting.
It is noticeable that hands and eyes are observed with particular care. In a hospital there is a great deal of cleaning, moving, changing of equipment, all requiring physical effort, but also a deal of watching, assessing, recording, informing: hands and eyes are in constant use. How this is conveyed in the drawings repays our own attention.
There is also a sense of the artist being 'in' the activity observed rather than only a curious, or even intrusive, onlooker. This may partly result from the fact that before starting to study art Newman was herself, for a time, a nurse in this very hospital, sometimes on duty in the operating theatre.
The day to day maintenance of the health system has been for many years a subject with which everyone is intensely engaged. Newman, as an artist, is habitually aware of such critical social and human issues but approaches them through the immediate visual encounter with the person and the activity: it is this that gives her work a lasting, rather than a merely topical, interest.
© Eric Rimmington
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