David Ferry PRE is Emeritus Professor of Printmaking and Book Arts at the Cardiff Metropolitan University and Hon Doctor of Arts at Solent University. David joins our 60 Voices with a powerful account of his own hospital experience through the lens of poetry and art history…

‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower’

This wonderful and powerful description by Dylan Thomas from 1934 connects nature and humankind. It describes essential ‘energy’, that even though the flower is delicate, the same forces are present in us. The flower and we are one of the same because of this tremendous force. It brings both life and destruction. Somewhere in the human forte is the privilege of looking at and/or making art. It could be in a museum or gallery but it could also be in many other places of human gathering, and the hospital environment is one such place where the forces of nature and art fuse together.

The prophetic and minimal Black Square by Kaspar Malevich and the lyrical figurative composition of the white marble ‘Tondo’ of Michelangelo. These works of art are centuries apart, different in shape and with an immediate physical and visual difference. One has figures chiselled into it and one (at first hand) is simply a black motif. I like to see them as polar opposites but connected like the ice caps to that central force; the whole Earth. Both examples act with similarities and differences. Our response is intuitional and from not just what we have learnt but also how we feel.

Unfortunately, a little while ago I suffered a serious traumatic road traffic accident and many weeks of hospital rehab that included a major operation, morphine, someone else’s blood, X-rays, ultrasound scans, and personal challenge. The intense discomfort was balanced in some ways by the art on the hospital wall. The hospital allowed itself to be a place of the imagination.

The art became the trigger (whether it be figurative or abstract, i.e. the Michelangelo/Malevich connection) but was also a portal to engage the mind's eye.

The ward became more of a Doctor Who’s TARDIS than a high dependency unit, although both we understand are stuffed full of high-tech equipment! The TARDIS analogy was the transport out of the ward and into a ‘museum of thoughts’.

Patients, visitors, doctors, consultants, anaesthetists, radiologists, porters, nurses, cleaners, counsellors, the ministers of all faiths, are working and thriving in this crucial environment, an environment that is culturally and metaphorically benefiting from art on the wall.

In essence, the Black Square and the Tondo and the profound poem of Dylan Thomas unite in a powerful context in the hospital environment. Art takes a part in the overall healing setting, with its reflective sense of goodness, human kindness and care for others. It leaves a ‘tattoo’ in the mind of something remembered and good.

If art is on the wall, it is also in your mind. It helps deal with the consequences of being yourself at a time when you need all the resources of goodness and medical expertise around you, and adds significantly to a spirit of wellbeing.

This year is Paintings in Hospitals’ 60th anniversary, can you help us raise £60,000 to inspire better health for patients and carers across the country?

Celebrating 60 years of Paintings in Hospitals in 2019

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David Ferry PRE was born in Blackpool and studied at the Camberwell and Slade schools of art. He is Emeritus Professor of Printmaking and Book Arts at the Cardiff Metropolitan University and Hon Doctor of Arts at Solent University. David was awarded a Pollock-Krasner Award in 2002 and was Medal winner at the First International Book Arts Competition in Seoul, Korea in 2004. Examples of his artworks can be found in the collections of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; The Art Institute of Chicago, USA; The National Museum of Australia, Canberra; The Art Museum of Estonia, Tallinn; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, V&A Museum, London; National Museum of Wales, Cardiff; Jinling Museum of Art, China. A former Chairman of the Chelsea Arts Club, David is the current, 13th President of the Royal Society of Painter/Printmakers (RE) founded in London in 1881.