Paul Grist, a teacher and artist from Beeston, showed me round his current exhibition in the atrium of Bexley Wing at St James’s Hospital, Yorkshire’s regional cancer centre.
The space is both a peaceful, quiet space and busy thoroughfare where, as Paul puts it “you will see all of life: people who have just had extremely bad news; people who have just had extremely good news; families waiting for news; patients with drips and feeding tubes; nurses, doctors and porters; it’s all there in that space.”
It’s exactly the sort of space Paul wants his work exhibited in, not hidden away in an art gallery. He believes art is for everyone and should be part of the everyday world.
Paul was diagnosed with throat cancer three years ago and was inspired by a quote he saw on the wall at Bexley Wing on his first visit:
“Little as we know about the way in which we are affected by form, colour, by light, we do know this, that they have a physical effect. Variety of form and brilliancy of colour in the objects presented to patients are actual means of recovery.”
Surprisingly, it was written as long ago as 1859, by Florence Nightingale.
Having read it, Paul, who has made artworks since he was at school, was inspired to carry on creating work with the aim of exhibiting here once he had recovered from the cancer.
The exhibition, called ‘A Means Of Recovery’, includes 14 paintings inspired by the quote and painted over an 18 month period.
Many of the paintings are based on tight, geometric patterns, but this breaks down in the more recent pieces. Paul explained:
“Now in my most recent ones I’m allowing gesture and expression to begin to break through the geometrical structure of the painting. Maybe that’s because I’m not having treatment now and maybe I’m less inside myself, because I’m back engaged at work and everything else.”
He talked me through his inspirations for each work, ranging from the music of John Coltrane to the experience of travelling to hospital everyday for treatment through an empty city in the strange springtime of the first lockdown. But he’s very clear that these are not important to the viewer.
“My paintings are completely open to interpretation, obviously I have my own thoughts about them, but I think understanding is a bit of a myth in visual art. It’s about how does it make you feel, how do you respond to it? It’s a different way of communication from language.”
And his advice to visitors?
“Don’t worry about understanding it. Appreciate it in an open-ended way. I’m not imposing a particular interpretation on it. Hopefully people will enjoy them and interpret them in their own ways without having a meaning thrust upon them.”
I certainly enjoyed them and would highly recommend a visit.
The exhibition, which runs until July, is free and open to the public, but please wear a facemask in the hospital. All the works are available to buy with 35% of the price going to the Leeds Hospitals Charity.