Sunday, 8 July 2012

Quentin Blake - Hospital Art

I think everyone feels the same about hospitals – the smell, the memories, the sounds – it’s not somewhere you look forward to visiting on the whole, yet everyone, at some stage, has to.  

I don’t know about you but my hospital birthing room was fairly plain. Battleship grey walls, off-putting blinking machines and a bed which I remember eyeing suspiciously knowing what would be happening in there before long.

Labour took much longer than I’d expected – an hour after admission and I was disappointed when my baby still hadn’t put in an appearance. Optimistic? A tad. I remember that the only thing on the wall was an agonisingly slow-moving clock – and this had my complete, undivided, obsessive attention.

Hospital walls are pretty grim in most cases. Uniformly grey and peeling, they may as well paint bars on them and be done with it. Which is why I think this exhibition by Quentin Blake is the most fabulous idea. Four hospitals in the UK and France commissioned him to produce therapeutic art for various units (mental health, eating disorders, health and social care, and maternity), with unsurprising positive results.

From the series Mothers and Babies Underwater (c) Quentin Blake

The maternity series, the largest of the projects, contains more than 50 illustrations and in Blake’s words is a way of saying ‘it’s going to be alright in a minute’. Well, I certainly could have done with a bit of that at the crucial moment. I think I may have been expecting too much from the scented candle and hypnobirthing CD.

The exhibition is currently on tour - the itinerary's below. It's not clear what happens to the art afterwards but I really hope it ends up back in the hospitals where patients can continue to have something cheerful to look at.

The Foundling Museum, London     12 January - 15 April 2012
Paisley Museum, Renfrewshire     27 April - 24 June 2012
Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle     7 July - 14 October 2012
Kirkby Gallery, Knowsley     29 October 2012 - 13 January 2013 (tbc)
Bankfield Museum, Halifax     2 February - 13 April 2013 (tbc)
Bodelwyddan Castle, Denbighshire     20 April - 14 July 2013 (tbc)
Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry     27 July - 3 November 2013 (tbc)


  1. I personnally brought a good book to hosiptal while in labour but some art on the walls would have been lovely too. I hope as well that the pictures will go back into hospital after the tour.

    1. Goodness - you managed to concentrate on a book!? I take my hat off to you. I think gazing at a painting on the wall would have been about my focus limit.

      I have to ask, did you finish it? I have a mental picture of you saying mid-labour 'Hang on baby, just stay there for another ten minutes - I'm almost finished the last chapter.' ;)

  2. How lovely. I love Quentin Blake from Roald Dahl books as a kid x

    1. The illustrations really make the books don't they? Not that the books aren't brilliant too but somehow I can only picture the BFG as Blake drew him. And Matilda too. If you haven't already been to the Roald Dahl centre in Great Missenden definitely recommend it for a day out for you and your boys x