Our July fundraising event at Alan Cristea Gallery was a great success, with all 100 prints from our exclusive edition by Ian Davenport selling out in hours. Dr Mary E Black, senior advisor in digital and data science at Public Health England and Paintings in Hospitals trustee, tells us what happened to the 100th print...

At first encounter, Ian Davenport’s ‘Chromatastic Paintings in Hospitals’ was not for me. I saw it at the launch of Paintings in Hospitals’ Patrons Circle: a lovely dinner with artists and art lovers in the Royal College of Surgeons in November 2016, created and led by fellow trustee Deborah Roslund. What struck me was the colours of the flowers that effortlessly stylish ceramicist Lindy Mason, also a trustee, had thoughtfully matched to the print. Ian himself was charming, his donation of 100 works of art to help the cause an outstanding act of generosity. However, the print itself did not speak to me. I simply could not see it in my Victorian terraced house in East London. Frankly, the colours were so vibrant it would have made everything else in my house, and perhaps even my life, look dull.

So, on a rainy 11 July, a date scored into the souls of all of us from Northern Ireland (it is the annual bonfire night, held before the 12 July marches by the Loyal Orange Order), I walk into the Alan Cristea Gallery on Pall Mall in London. I see entire walls of magnificent Davenport prints, stretching across perfect white walls, and there is our own small print, glowing in an expanse of white wilderness. My emotional reaction was intense - within under a minute I had whipped out my credit card.

Without a doubt, the print was destined for the house of my friend Dr Maire Connolly, a public health doctor in Galway. She has recently built a family home, a modern building looking over Galway bay. She is so busy that she has barely had time to unpack. The tall white walls are empty. And therein lies the genius of a good gallery – it is so effortlessly simple that there is no distraction to the art. I could see beyond my own life and my own story, to connect with this work and to see where it might fit in someone else’s life.

Ian Davenport speaking to James Prichard, Chair of Paintings in Hospitals, with Dr Mary E Black and Chelsea Prichard at Alan Cristea Gallery

This got me thinking about why so many of us work, volunteer, donate and collaborate with Paintings in Hospitals. It is all about narrative. The artist has a story to tell. Then whoever views that piece of art will at once draw another story from it, one that is meaningful for them. And just think how many such tales one painting can be part of when hung in a public place, let alone in a hospital. All those folks telling stories, perhaps even more intensely than usual, because in extremis we may become more open, and certainly more porous and vulnerable. Now imagine the telltales of all those conversations, emanating from each one of our works as they hang quietly, restfully, in a hospital corridor. I imagine they may leave a cobwebby trace. I expect the narratives may interconnect.

And so to our Ian Davenport print, a work of art that will be mine for not much longer. Dr Maire Connolly is as vibrant and clear as the painting. She is a generous soul and has helped many. Her husband and partner Dr Michael Ryan has just been named Deputy Director of Emergencies for the World Health Organisation. I can see him taking one last look at this riot of colour before he says farewell to his children and leaves on an emergency mission. And when he gets to some lost, hot place, where there is barely water, where there is little time or money for art, and where there is pain and suffering, the sinuous lines and deep colours of this print will have been seared onto his memory and he will see it again, perhaps at night when he is tired, frustrated and a little overwhelmed with all that lies ahead. I believe it may well replenish his spirit.

The 'Chromatastic Paintings in Hospitals' print by Ian Davenport on display behind the sales desk at Alan Cristea Gallery

Now I will carefully pack the 100th print so it can travel safely with me on a plane this Friday, to be unpacked in Galway, where it will bring joy to my friends and I am sure to many others. It will arrive, not just with the story Ian was telling when he made it, and not just the stories that Maire, Michael and their family and friends will create when they see it, but with the story of Paintings in Hospitals.

And that makes me very happy.

Dr Mary E Black is a senior advisor in digital and data science at Public Health England and a trustee of Paintings in Hospitals. You can find her on Twitter: @DrMaryBlack.