Like many people who have lived in the East End for decades, I have had my fair share of visits to the Royal London Hospital both as a patient and as an anxious visitor worriedly pacing the portals underneath the arches. I remember in particular the freezing January of 1997 and visits to the ICU on the fifth floor. Above could be heard the sound of the helicopter landing and taking off throughout the night. The hygiene and care given to patients in this ward was exemplary and one felt reassured, although the rest of the hospital appeared to be crumbling, fighting a losing battle against the odds despite heroic efforts of the staff. Twenty years on I had occasion to visit the hospital for an emergency overnight stay. The new wing had opened and all was spotless, fresh and efficiently run.
I no longer accept commissions but in early June I was approached by a consultant paediatrician at the hospital to create a work for a retiring colleague, Janie who has worked at the hospital as play therapist for over twenty years and is much loved by staff and patients. I felt I could not refuse partly for personal reasons, especially as she requested the inclusion of the new building if possible, so I was not being asked to create a nostalgic depiction. There was a problem however, in terms of time. I only had a few weeks in which to make the art work and because I work slowly when i paint I realised this medium was out of the question. I decided a coloured pencil drawing would suit my working methods and desire for precision.
A week later, with trepidation, as for the first time in over two months, I was braving the public transport system and kitted plus hand sanitiser, I emerged into a quieter than usual, but still busy market at Whitechapel. It felt oddly insecure to be surrounded by people again and the sounds of the reduced market after weeks of venturing solely onto Wanstead Flats exercising our lively young Springer Spaniel.
Back in the studio I worked on the material I had gathered, primarily to remove the builders hoardings that now shroud the frontage of the old hospital. I was pleased to include the new hospital block at the rear as I felt it expanded the context of the piece and created a more interesting composition with it’s glazed panelling that reflected the sky and surrounding environment. It seems to me, a particularly poignant image of the precarious state we find ourselves in at moment. Hopefully the facade, now covered by wooden hoarding will be retained and the best of the past will be retained alongside the efficiency and modernity of the present.
- Doreen Fletcher, www.doreenfletcherartist.com
Print details: Royal London Hospital, Giclee Print on Hahnenmuhle 300gsm paper, 11”x15” (same size as original drawing), edition of 250, £125
This limited edition print is now available for purchase from the Nunnery Cafe.