I often work to commission, for people who love my work but don't see the perfect painting to fit their home. But working on a commission for a public space is another world, as I discovered.
Two years ago I was approached by a potential client with a proposal. He had atrial fibrillation and had been treated at Worthing Hospital after a blue-light emergency. Now living well, he wanted to give something back. The hospital has quite a collection of artworks, (including a popular colony of metal penguins), so he was inspired to sponsor a painting. He knew that I worked large-scale, and came to me with a budget and some ideas.
We then approached the Hospital, who were enthusiastic but had their own criteria. So this is the list of the Sponsor's requirements and the Hospital's for the painting:
Colourful with a ‘wow’ factor
Not scary, not a too dark
An ‘Understandable’ abstract
Not ‘about illness’ but health and wellbeing
Using metals, preferably shiny ones
Designed for its chosen hanging position
A good 'waymarker' (arty signpost)
Safe for allergies and cleaning products
Not too heavily textured, as dust is a health hazard
An interesting list to work with!
The next step was to pick a site around the cardiac department. Big wall spaces are scarce, as there’s always that compulsory notice, fire-alarm, emergency light fitting or badly trunked wiring to negotiate. It came down to two positions:
Option 1) a dark waiting area. Lots of people would sit and look at the painting, but the reflective metals wouldn’t shine.
Option 2) a bright corridor. Good light, but not much of a captive audience. Also the painting would need to be designed to work ‘on the oblique, on the approach’
We went for the second option, I measured up and started sketching. I explored the idea of a heart rhythm ECG: how it appears when a heart is healthy and how it changes in fibrillation. This left-to right panning over time seemed to work for the long space too.
Early sketches were literal, with triangular shapes for the peaks and troughs. But this felt too obvious/ bordering on ‘scary’. In the end I implied the heart beat with small red squares on a gold and blue ground of shifting shapes. I called it ‘Rhythmia’.
The painting was well received by its sponsor and the hospital. It fitted its location perfectly. But what do the cardiac patients and staff think of it? Is it successful art?
The answer is that although it ticks all the boxes, I’m not sure. Working with new people, new environments is very stimulating, but fulfilling a commission brief inevitably involves... the skillful art of compromise.
And the moral of this story: corridors are a challenge but fire alarms can be a source of inspiration!