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A hospital is a place to heal and art has a vital role to play in providing a healing environment. In St Luke's, we place particular emphasis on the range of healing needs of our patients and their families. A diagnosis of cancer presents particular challenges for both the person and their family and friends. We recognise the intrinsic importance of the hospitals ambiance and great importance is placed on ensuring we provide a bright, friendly and non-threatening setting for our patients. The range of art in every area of the hospital plays an essential role in achieving this positive environment.
The eclectic range of art in St Luke's is due in the main to one person, Dr John Cooney. John gave extraordinary service as a member of the Board of St Luke's over an ll-year period from 1989 to 1998 which included a period of great redevelopment and investment. Amongst the range of expertise he brought to the Board was his exceptional knowledge of, and love for, art. His chairing of the art project team during the redevelopment ensured art was at the centre of the creation of the wonderful environment we all enjoy today. In this he was ably assisted by his colleagues on the art team to each of whom we owe a sincere debt of gratitude. The Department of Health and Children were also supportive and commissioned the sculpture "The Singing Cosmos" at the main entrance.
Since the completion of the redevelopment project, we are extremely fortunate that Dr. Cooney has continued to take a special interest in St Luke's and, in particular, in our collection of art. Working with a very modest budget, he has acquired on our behalf a range of high quality prints and original works of art placing particular importance on original affordable Irish art. In his personal travels to major galleries in New York, London, Dublin and elsewhere, Dr. Cooney has always kept the needs of the art collection in St Luke's at the forefront of his mind. The debt of gratitude we owe him, as Honorary Curator of our collection is enormous. It is thanks to John that the renowned art critic, Brian Fallon, gave generously of his time to review our collection and his commentary set out on these pages is a wonderful introduction to the collection.
The art in St Luke's exists for one purpose only, namely, to enhance the hospital environment so that our patients' time here is as comfortable, stimulating and uplifting as we can make it for them. A walk around the hospital is a challenge to the visual senses, at each corners turn a new work of art awaits. Inevitably, not all pieces will be to everyone's taste but one doesn't have to stroll too far to come across a piece with which one will be enthralled. I urge you to take the time to walk the corridors and enjoy the outstanding collection and I very much hope these pages will act as a catalyst for such enjoyment.
Padraic A. White
Pictures and graphic works are - stating the ultra-obvious - created to be seen on walls, usually in the private home or in a public gallery or institution. This setting allows them to be looked at and lived with on more or less daily terms, communed with, studied or analysed in changing light and weather. Any good work of art will quickly impress itself on its immediate surroundings and will speak to those with eyes to see. The walls of churches, certain public buildings, banks and offices have also been provided settings for art. The multiple walls and corridors of hospitals are a relatively new field, but one with almost infinite potential.
Of course, pictures of some kind have almost always hung in hospitals, but usually they were few and uninspiring academic portraits of some eminent surgeon or doctor, or reproductions of some standard religious classic or genre piece. In St. Luke's Hospital they are so numerous as to create virtually a mini environment of their own. And instead of the old, standard reproductions, they are almost all modern and in many cases directly contemporary, even challenging.
The result is an ambience which is at once calming and stimulating. Bringing art into hospitals is an initiative which has many compelling reasons behind it, and not only therapeutic ones either. For one thing, patients often have time on their hands, which means they have also time to gaze, contemplate or enjoy. For another, visual art has a unique power of lighting up its immediate setting, comparable to a sudden flood of sunlight. And for some at least of these people, it is probably their first experience of living among creations of form, colour and line, or of feeling at first hand the silent vibrations which all good art sends out. It has long been accepted that hospitals should supply such amenities as radio and TV, newspapers and magazines, but that they should supply them with art as well is something which many institutions have been slow to accept. But once introduced, it is an element which is here to stay, and its long-term effects, as much as its short-term ones, are difficult to underestimate. The pioneering work carried out by Dr. John Cooney in St. Patrick's Hospital, in particular, has not always had its due degree of recognition and he is also the inspiring force on the present case.
People in hospitals (excluding staff) may be driven in on their own inner resources in a way that they are not in the distractions of the daily round. They may then discover that art simultaneously sedates and stimulates, renews interest in the visual world, offers the consolation of beautiful objects and meaningful images, reflects life in multiple and multi coloured forms. It can lift men or women out of the prison of the ego and open windows for them on other existences, other worlds, other possibilities. Some art, no doubt, is more suitable than other kinds for such an environment. I rather doubt, for instance, if either patients or staff would be cheered and uplifted by a series of Goya's "black" paintings or by an overdose of the violent, visceral images of Soutine and Francis Bacon. Neither, however, do I believe that they should be restricted to a visual diet of flower pieces, still life, domestic interiors and idyllic landscape.
Obviously hospitals cannot become art galleries; that is not their function and in any case, the very high prices on today's art market would rule it out from a start. This factor also dictates that in the case of artists with an international reputation, whose works often cost millions, they must usually rely on good quality reproductions. These today, in any case, are little inferior to the originals except in terms of texture and surface quality. There is also, of course, the print - a medium long honoured both by museums and by private collectors. Prints are not poor man's paintings, they are a recognised medium or format in their own right (some people, including myself, rate Picasso's graphic works higher than his paintings). st. Luke's, which has the initial advantages of an airy modern-style layout and a pleasant setting, has built up a collection which is not merely a representative cross-section of recent or modern art, but almost an anthology of it. This goes right back to Impressionism
Figurative and abstract works are presented impartially, and English painters and printmakers are well to the fore. There are examples of Ben Nicholson, David Hockney, Henry Moore, Patrick Heron, Cedric Morris, Joe Tilson, Peter Blake, Albert Irvin, John Piper, Dod Proctor and my own special favourite among living English artists, the elegant stylist Patrick Caulfield. Barbara Rae upholds the contemporary vitality of contemporary Scottish art, as does William Crozier.
I have left Irish art until last, but here the range and number speak for themselves. To pick names almost at random: Sean McSweeney, Barrie Cooke, Sean Scully, Tony O'Malley, Stephen McKenna, Brian Burke, Brian Kennedy (an outstanding printmaker), Felim Egan, Eithne Jordan, Michael O'Dea, Mildred Anne Butler.
It can be said, without any special pleading, that Irish art of the past twenty years has been strong enough and self-confident enough to hold up its head in very high company.
Not all these works are necessarily masterpieces, but there are no weak or inferior pieces among them, certainly there is a total absence of the kind of stereotyped academic kitsch favoured by institutions in the past. All of them, major and minor, combine to create a very special environment, healing and enlivening at once.
In 1998, with the reconstruction and redevelopment of St. Luke's Hospital nearing completion, the Board of the Hospital at the time decided on the installation of an art collection for the Hospital. As a member of the Board, I was entrusted with this task which I undertook willingly on an entirely voluntary basis.
I first approached the design team employed on the project. They readily agreed to donate works of art to the Hospital and furnished two of the wards with original prints selected by themselves. I was then given a budget to purchase art for the remainder of the buildings.
I decided my aim would be to assemble a collection - modern in character, which would not only be aesthetic in content, but would also have an important role in helping to provide a sympathetic and reassuring environment for our patients, their families and friends, as well as enhancing the working conditions of the staff of the Hospital. Works by Irish artists, both established and emerging, formed the basis of the collection whose range was extended by the addition of examples of international art. I attempted to be as eclectic as possible in my selection within the constraints of the budget, but excluded any images which could be construed as provocative or disturbing. A large number of individuals, corporations, artists and art galleries made valuable donations at my request. To all of them the hospital is most grateful for their generosity which is acknowledged publicly where appropriate. At all times the wishes of those donors who preferred anonymity were observed.
The pictures were hung following consultation with the staff working in the different areas of the hospital. I would like to thank them for their cooperation and encouragement.
The provision of a grant by the Department of Health for the commissioning and erection of the sculpture, The Singing Cosmos by Tom Fitzgerald, at the front of the hospital was an endorsement of the decision of the Hospital Board to install the collection. I am most grateful for the support I received from the Chairman and my other Board colleagues with a special reference to Mr. Patrick Shanley who assisted me greatly in a most practical manner.
My sincere thanks are due to the maintenance staff of the Hospital at the time who so courteously and effectively co-operated with me in placing and hanging the entire collection.
Dr. John Cooney KSG