The Royal College of General Practitioners recently opened it’s doors to the art world. Will this stunning, recently-renovated Grade II* listed Edwardian building, complete with mosaic floors and tiled grandeur become a hothouse for the arts? Absolutely yes, with The Wellcome Collection and British Library only a stones throw away, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t . Stepping out of the mayhem of London traffic into it’s beautifully appointed public spaces, one is immediately transported into calm. The current exhibition, Health and the Body, The Ingram Collection at the RCGP is certainly well worth a visit.
Chris Ingram, patron and avid collector of mostly 20th- Century British art has collaborated with The RCGP and loaned twenty four important pieces illustrating mind and body. This is the first time part of The Ingram Collection has been seen in London, it is usually at The Lightbox in Woking, Surrey.
The exhibition is centred around a bustling café full of junior doctors, medical experts and the general public, ( apparently Jeremy Corbyn hid out here during the Labour leadership elections). Today, displayed amongst this interesting back drop are important sculptures by Elizabeth Frink, John Davies, and Eduardo Paolozzi and paintings by Lucy Jones, Barbara Hepworth and Leonard Rosoman amongst others. The exhibition draws strong links from the human form and condition underlining the connection between art and growing pressures faced by GP’s and the NHS in Great Britain today. Whether sipping a healthy green smoothie with Elizabeth Frink’s ‘Spinning Man II’ at one’s feet, or eating an almond croissant whilst being judged by Leonard Rosoman’s ‘Fattipuffs and ‘Thinnifers’, the exhibition is free and well worth a visit!
Between 1947 – 49, Barbara Hepworth made eighty drawings of surgeons at work in operating theatres after a friendship with the surgeon who treated her daughter began. Barbara Hepworth: “There is, it seems to me, a close affinity between the work and approach both of physicians and surgeons, and painters and sculptors.”
The Tempest by BP Portrait Award winner Aleah Chapin is the only piece of American art in Ingram’s entire collection. The work is an ageing female-nude of breathtaking and visceral beauty, a fearless celebration of life. This painting is very poignant as it highlights the challenges facing our ageing population, general practice and the NHS as a whole. Art displayed in such close proximity to the public makes it unquestionably real and accessible, brings it down from it’s pedestal and reflects clearly Chris Ingram’s ethos that art should not be elitist or hidden away. The public and art simply merge and become one with each other with no boundaries or expectation.
As advancement in medicine and living conditions progress, so does the increase in people living with mounting and varied ailments, both physical and mental. The practical and financial strain on our health system is inevitably stretched. Lucy Jones’s painting ‘A Handful of Tears’, eloquently demonstrates this. Jones was born with cerebral palsy and this is an ongoing theme in her work. Finding a comfortable position from which to paint is a struggle for her but for years she didn’t allow art critics to reveal her disabilities or discuss her condition. Lucy Jones: ” Even now it is something I am wary of…. I am an artist, not a disabled artist. In my paintings, using me as a stand-in for being human, it became harder to discuss the painting without putting some explanation. I think my work speaks without my personal narrative attached to it as it covers the universal about how difficult it is to be human.”
Dr Terry Kemple, President of the Royal College of General Practitioners :” Health and the Body tells a story of medicine through the eyes of artists, but it also casts the looking glass back, giving a snapshot of the artists’ own health at time of creation…..Barbara Hepworth’s drawings of surgery are tied to the time of the hospitalisation of her own daughter, whilst John Bellany’s Self Portrait in Hospital was painted hours after he received a liver
transplant. Michael Ayrton too, cast bronze sculptures examining the physical capabilities and limitations of the human body, paradoxical to his own limited and deteriorating health at the time….We want visitors to this exhibition to consider how the objects represent the diversity of medicine and some of what our profession is about – the body, its health, and general practice. We thank Chris Ingram for allowing us to share this story of medicine in the home of general practice.”
Chris Ingram : “I’m absolutely delighted to be loaning these pieces to the Royal College of General Practitioners. 30 Euston Square is a stunning location, which can only enhance the art on display. The RCGPs pre-occupation with health made this a wonderful opportunity for us to showcase highlights from one of the strongest aspects of The Ingram Collection – the human body – where we have over 70 pieces.”
Featured artists: Michael Ayrton John Bellany, R.A. Reg Butler, Aleah Chapin, Geoffrey Clarke, John Davies, Dame Elisabeth Frink, R.A. Henri Gaudier-Brzeska Dame Barbara Hepworth Lucy Jones
Bernard Meadows, Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, R.A. William Roberts, R.A. Leonard Rosoman, OBE, R.A. Leon Underwood
Health and the Body: The Ingram Collection at the RCGP, until 29 May 2016 Royal College of General Practitioners, 30 Euston Square, London, NW1 2FB Free entry
Words/Photos Lisa Azarmi © artlyst 2016