A few Saturdays ago I woke up to a host of messages from my daughter, a nursing student at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee.
Mia had taken a break at 4am and noticed the walls of the corridor on level seven of the hospital had been “arted up” with portraits of Ninewells staff.
Each had a story beside them. Beautifully painted, in watercolour, ink and pastel, they showed nurses, doctors, porters an cleaners in scrubs and masks.
The 22 portraits – now on permanent display – are the work of Stirling-based Gilly McLaren. Her Portraits And Tales From A Hospital Bed series was created while she was a patient at the height of the pandemic.
In March 2020, as the UK went into lockdown, the art and design teacher received a devastating diagnosis of advanced ovarian cancer. She underwent surgery to remove her womb, ovaries and appendix, followed by chemo. In December 2020, back in Ninewells for more treatment, McLaren took art materials, unsure she’d be well enough to use them.
It was “the whirl of activity” around her which prompted her to paint. “It’s easy to forget what that time was like,” she recalled. “Just nine months earlier, no visitors were allowed. Staff chose to go in. They risked their own health.”
The series started with a portrait of a cleaner, Margaret White. “I discovered that she brought her own lavender spray to work. I decided to paint Margaret and her colleagues as a thank you for the kindness and compassion they showed me.”
Now in remission, the 35-year-old is working on a series of staff at The Beatson, Glasgow, where she also received treatment.
She now plans to publish a book of her paintings and stories. “If a publisher wants to get in touch, I’m @gillyartist on Instagram,” she laughed. “I’m on a mission to tell the stories of amazing NHS staff.”
The Unwrap Art campaign, run by SCAN (Scottish Contemporary Art Network) launched recently to connect the public with galleries, artists, shops, workshops, and websites where they can find unique and original works of art as gifts.
The SCAN website provides a one-stop-shop for people looking for gift ideas and suggestions of galleries, events to go to in search of contemporary art and craft. Hop on to sca-net.org to find a host of ideas for unusual one-off gifts.
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