Oh wow what a night!
Last night (10th September 2021) was the opening for the Body Voyager Exhibit. It was the most amazing, most surreal, experience of my artist career.
Dressed in our glad-rags, dressed up, suited and booted, my mum, dad, and partner made our way to the museum. I really didn’t know what to expect from the occasion. I’ve been to many art exhibition openings, but I’d never been to the opening of a new wing of a museum. And oh my, what an experience. We were welcomed by the amazing individuals who run the Surgeon’s Hall Museum, those in the back offices and those in front of house. All the amazing, familiar faces I’d gotten to know so well over my time working at the museum, I was a little overcome with nostalgia, realising how much I’d enjoyed my time working in my cubby-hole under the stairs (Think Harry Potter... but happy).
Treated like a VIP we were shown up and through the Pathology museum, with all its familiar specimens in jars lining the walls, to the Playfair Hall. For those who haven’t experienced the Playfair Hall, it is a large, beautiful, brightly lit room with blue walls, a high domed ornate ceiling, and portraits of members of the Royal College of Surgeons in gilded frames dating back to the 1700s. It is GRAND and really quite breath-taking. Sniffing out the drinks table, I can smell gin a mile off, we got our tipples and found our seats while the rest of the invitees arrived.
Playfair Hall, Royal College of Surgeon's of Edinburgh
Once all the seats were taken, Chris Henry the director of the Surgeon’s Hall Museum, how’d I’d been working closely with since our initial contact two (yes two!) years ago, got up to make a speech. A speech that was on the new exhibit, the future of surgery, but made us think deeply about what can be classified as ‘the future’. Throwing in some fab sci-fi references and quotes which went down an absolute treat, well I can’t vouch for everyone, but they were a treat for me!! At the end of his speech, Chris thanked people who’d contributed and singled me out… which was both fabulous and, as the heat coming off my cheeks would attest, awkward as all eyes turned to look at me. Chris was followed by Michael Griffin, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons, and when the speeches had finished, all attendees followed Mr Griffin up the stairs to cut the ribbon of the exhibition.
Two of my original paintings hang on the wall as you walk to the gallery, while the third has been given pride of place in the gallery itself. I have to thank David and the design team for this, as I have been overwhelmed by how much my work has been used throughout the exhibit; much much MUCH more than I think had ever been discussed.
Surgeon-person, oil on board, 2020 Robot as Extension, oil on board, 2020
Theatre Panorama, oil on 80 x 220 cm board, 2021
My big panorama painting was apparently not big enough for the museum, as they’ve blown it up to 6m long behind the interactive display of the Da Vinci Robot!! I was very concerned that the quality would fade being blown up to this size, but incredibly, it didn’t!! My perfectionist tendencies to get every last detail absolutely paid off in this instance. It is incredibly exciting to see your work blown up to this size. I was suddenly dwarfed by my painted figures that had become comrades in the delirium of the lockdown home-studio!
Body Voyager, Surgeon's Hall Museum, Edinburgh
Interactive Display, Body Voyager, Surgeon's Hall Museum, Edinburgh
Walking round the exhibit I was able to talk to my fellow attendees and was overwhelmed by the response my paintings were getting, I still am. For those who don’t know me personally, I don’t like being the centre of attention, and I am not good with flattery. But last night I was/was receiving both. I can’t say for sure as you can’t see your own face, but I think I became a permanent shade of red, varying from pink to puce, if I’m going by the temperature of my face below the mask!
But what was the best moment of all? The smallest of comments… from the robotics people and the surgeons… it was how accurate they were. How I’d managed to get the details right.
The fear, and the anxiety, that had been a dull ache of panic throughout the production of the surgical theatre panorama vanished. The ‘surgeon-person’ and ‘robot as extension’ paintings are artist interpretations to get across a certain message, but the panorama is different, the panorama needed to be accurate, it needed to be right.
My biggest fear when producing paintings on something like surgery, on something that absolutely HAS to be precise, on something that absolutely has to be RIGHT, is a surgeon walking into the museum and pointing at one of my paintings saying
“This bit is wrong.”
I don’t think I realised quite how much this was still affecting me. How much I needed to hear that I’d got it right, and not only got it right, but exceeded the expectation of detail within the robotic theatre scene.
A weight lifted.
Now I could be fully happy. Now I could really enjoy my night, enjoy the journey I’ve been on, be thankful for everyone’s kind words, and to the Surgeon’s Hall Museum, especially Chris Henry and Thomas Elliot, for giving a rookie artist this huge opportunity. I must have said this a hundred times, but this really has been the most incredible experience, and one that has given me the drive, and the momentum to really pursue this career.
In the words of Chris “Look how far three paintings can take you.”
For those interested, I also did an interview for the museum, which is the most embarrassing thing, but great publicity! …so if you want a laugh/just want to watch a video of me explaining the paintings, you can find the video by clicking on the photo below:
Interview with the Surgeon's Hall Museum: