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Gruesome twosome

The first painting of 2023 has taken a previously untried direction. It was something I felt compelled to paint after spending 40 years talking to doctors, radiographers, surgeons, nurses and various paramedics about that they do and often watching them do it. There was no particular charismatic moment here, just endless observations. I wanted to see if I could make a picture of a thoracic operation. I titled this "Surgery", the American term for what we call an operation.


I had some time deciding how to show this. My early sketches showed several figures clustered round the patient, with the effect of hiding what was going on. So I decided to resolve this by taking the place of one of the team standing opposite the surgeon so the viewer is immediately involved in the action opposite. On the canvas I set the right hand edge of the theatre table about a third of the way from the bottom edge of the picture. The two figures would occupy the top two thirds. I split this so that the nurse stands tranquilly in the left had third of this zone and the surgeon, dramatically bent over in a deep parabola so that you see the top of his cap, gets the right hand two thirds to show both hands at work.


The surgeon's eyes are hidden behind protective goggles. His right hand is poised near them as he searches for the exact place to make his cut. The nurse is keeping her hands out of the way while she waits to be asked for the next instrument.


I curved the outline of the patient's body and echoed the curve by setting a large satellite light behind the surgeon, closing off the top right of the picture. To suggest the brightness of the lights I darkened the background green around the rim if the light and faded that into the overall even green field representing the theatre walls.


The colour way was simple to establish: essentially two colours, blue gowns, masks and caps, green drapes and theatre walls. I thought I could make a play with the contrast between the blue gowns and the yellowish surgical gloves. I could accent this by emphasising the instrument trolley next to the nurse and the surgical sites as two squares of intense colour diagonally offset around a "horizon line", dark green and a pop of red. The surgical team's protective clothing simplified their figures and faces, thereby allowing me once more to pursue my move into abstraction.


I don't imagine anyone would want to have an image like this on their walls, but if any of you who worked with me on a hospital project would like to make me an offer, I would be delighted!





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