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Pieces that Inspired me: Ken Currie’s The Three Oncologists

Ken Currie is a Glasgow based artist and an artist whom I admire very highly. As mentioned in my previous blog post, I realised I had been highly influenced Currie’s painting on my preconceptions of what the surgical theatre was like prior to my experiences there. But Ken Currie’s work has also inspired me in my painting as well.

As you all know from my painting I strive for realism, enjoying the challenge and skill this involves. Currie is not a realist painter. He, in fact, tries to pull his paintings away from the representational. Currie very rarely draws from life, and actually goes so far as to detest doing so: “Even as a student, I had a complete abhorrence of the life room, I couldn’t stand this idea of doing mechanical recording of a figure in front of me, it felt like a complete abnegation of the ability to think, to use your imagination”.

Nonetheless, saying this, Currie’s iconic painting of The Three Oncologists was executed after observing the cancer specialists in the operating theatre. I feel there is a necessity for observation in art. Whether that’s figurative and representational observation, so in reproducing what we actually see, or conceptual observations made on life and society; to some extent all art is social and representational. My work, unlike Currie’s, draws on intense observation of colour, perspective and light, to portray something in a way that is truer to life.

While his work isn’t conventionally representational, Currie’s decision to place his figures on a darkened background gives his oncologists an ethereal, other-worldly feel. Detaching the surgeons from their environment and distorting them, he gives them more meaning than a true representation as we begin to ask questions. Its ambiguity raising more questions than it answers. Currie takes his paintings a step further, on realising this all those years ago, I made it a compulsory goal of all my paintings. For it to not just be seen as a pretty picture.

While my paintings are painted in a representational way, they are, however, not a complete reflection of what has been seen. As discussed in my previous blog post, I entered the surgical theatre with preconceptions of a dark room, interrupted with pinpricks of light because of this painting. A notion that in retrospect is a ridiculous one to have had!! Yet despite this, I actually found that because of the use of the camera, and the setting adjustments needed to photograph the surgical lights above the patient, this effect came through within my photographs. The surgical lights were so bright, that the camera darkened the room. So here it was after all! The dark room, the pinpricks of light, the shadowy figures. The camera produced a new kind of reality. This is where we see a split between visual and optical reality; where the camera and the eye see very differently.

Influenced by Currie’s use of artist license, and using the different types of reality, lived and photographed, I began to develop the style of my own paintings. Currie has influenced me to ignore the original photograph after the initial stages of painting. To paint from memory and observation of the painting itself. To paint what looks right, rather than copying an image. Using photos, notes, drawings, I began to take artistic license, combining the photographic distortions with my own memory, exaggerating and ignoring aspects allows for the painting to progress to something that’s not quite a representation but representational.


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