Painting with charcoal and graphite 'Yellow Doctors 4' by Susie Hamilton, 2020. Two figures, three-quarter length in yellow and black Personal Protective Equipment, including visors. One faces left, the other forwards with hands raised to the head. Graphite lines give a sense of receding space. A series of pencil notes on the back relating to imagery in literature and art.
Susie Hamilton’s series of ‘Doctors’ paintings and drawings were made in immediate response to the Covid-19 pandemic and first lockdown of 2020. Inspired by photographs shared by a medical friend, they continue a tradition of artists in dialogue with medical work while also speaking to the specific constraints of the pandemic and the importance of personal protective equipment.
Peter Collins, a consultant hepatologist and deputy director at the University Hospitals Bristol and Weston, is a collector and admirer of Hamilton’s work. Knowing the artist’s interest in ‘twisted figures, metamorphosis, and in isolation’ he offered to share photographs that he had taken in the hospital wards. Starting from this inspiration, Hamilton developed a series of 100s of works showing doctors, nurses and patients facing Covid-19, later also based on news footage from television and online. These small, fluid works are full of the energy and tension of intensive care. Our viewpoint is often that of the patient, looking up at groups or single figures armoured in PPE, shown with abstracted surroundings and equipment. They seem at the same time distant, impersonal, isolated and intensely focused, human and caring.
Hamilton’s separation from the medical space, seeing through the camera lens of others, itself says something powerful about the particular context and fears of the pandemic. She was reliant on the same kinds of imagery through which most of us saw the impact on the NHS and her paintings evoke in particular the concerns around availability of PPE for medical staff. Hamilton’s work combines direct observation with classical, scientific and art historical imagery. She often responds to language and poetry and is drawn to light and dark. In early 2020, she was painting in response to Ovid’s Metamorphoses and found the pandemic offered ‘a real-life subject that carries the [same] mystery and terror’, the same sense of epic human drama.