Artist Sue Clayton captures ‘the feeling, the atmosphere, the experience’ of the Tent of Hope, Askham Bar’s vaccination centre

Tent Of Hope: Sue Clayton’s commissioned painting of the NHS York Vaccination Centre at Askham Bar, York. Plans are afoot for prints and postcards to be made available to raise funds for a charity. Watch this space.

YORK artist Sue Clayton has unveiled a specially commissioned painting of the “Tent Of Hope” at the NHS York Vaccination Centre at Askham Bar.

Sue has picked out members of the Nimbuscare teams that work there to feature in the pen-and-wash work, joined on the canvas by the cat that makes daily visits to the site.

The work is on show in the tent that has administered 200,000 jabs, one in every 250 in Britain so far, with the full repertoire of Oxford/AstraZeneka, Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines available.

On view too for those attending a vaccine appointment is Sue’s portrait exhibition of children and young adults with Down Syndrome, entitled 21, presented in association with Pocklington Arts Centre (PAC) until Sunday, June 13.

Nimbuscare’s director of quality and patient experience, Michelle Phillips, says: “It’s a huge privilege to have this very special art here at the Vaccination Centre. We’re especially delighted with the unique painting Sue has done for us. Thanks to everyone who has helped make it happen.” 

“We wanted to encapsulate the feeling, the atmosphere, the experience, in the Tent of Hope,” says Nimbuscare director of quality and patient experience Michelle Phillips

Standing beside the painting, Michelle adds: “We wanted to encapsulate the feeling, the atmosphere, the experience, in the Tent of Hope, where we try to not make it feel like a factory production line, like a turkey on a conveyor belt, but instead make it very much about everyone playing their part in the community. That’s why we call it ‘the tent of hope’ because the vaccine has been the turning of the tide.

“We wanted to find a local artist to express their interpretation of that experience, and I found Sue through a mutual friend.

“She was immediately excited and even more so when we met to chat about what we wanted from the painting, what the vaccination centre means to us, and what a variety of people work here: from the foundation-year doctors, nurses, retired [medic] returnees and health-care assistants to ambulance staff, security services, volunteers from all walks of life, and the military services at the start. Sue has come up with an amazing piece of art.”

Sue takes up the story: “I believe the recommendation to Michelle came from Big Ian Donaghy – Ian was one of the six York Heroes I painted in 2018 – making a nice full circle celebrating our heroes,” she says.

The commission brief was “quite open”, being left to her interpretation. “I immediately felt it should be a joyous watercolour; I wanted something almost whimsical…a definite celebration piece,” she says. 

“It was important to me to try to represent a member from each team that works there: the volunteers, marshals, nurses, doctors, army medics, plus a whole host more.

Artist Sue Clayton, site manager Will McEvoy and Nimbuscare director Michelle Phillips with the Tent Of Hope painting

“It was also important to speak to staff about what they felt about working there and I also spoke to friends about their feelings when visiting the tent.”

Sue enjoys the “quirky side” too. “That’s why the little black-and-white cat who visits the tent site each day is there, as is the much-appreciated tea trolley for the staff,” she says. 

“The finished piece shows the tent, celebratory rainbow-coloured splashes festooning the blue sky, and we see a little vignette of a vaccinator at work and various personnel, all socially distanced, of course!  It’s a pen-and-wash piece with the pen purposefully relaxed, almost in a ‘wibbly-wobbly’ fashion to add a sense of fun.”

The accompanying 21 exhibition was presented previously on the railings of All Saints’ Church, Pocklington, from March 19 to April 19 and comes a year after Sue held her studio show, Downright Marvellous At Large, at PAC, giant pair of hand-knitted odd socks and all.

Sue, a portrait artist with a vibrant colour palette and a social purpose, chose the theme of 21, not only to mark World Down Syndrome Day on March 21 but also to symbolise the extra 21st chromosome that people with Down Syndrome have, her energetic son James among them. 

“The PAC initiative of holding the outdoor exhibition was just so perfect, Covid-safe, free to access and inclusive, and it was a huge success on its first showing in Pocklington town centre,” says Sue. 

Sue Clayton’s portrait of Holly from her 21 exhibition of children and young adults who have Down Syndrome

“There was such a great reaction. I’ve had people sending in photos of themselves by the portraits. It was brilliant to be sent photos of the models themselves, by their portraits. 

“I know for many families it became a trip out – it was great that there was an ice-cream parlour at the end of the exhibition! I had a very proud moment with my kids as I heard some lovely comments from passers-by, discussing the portraits with no knowledge that I had painted them.”

PAC director Janet Farmer says: “We always enjoy working with Sue on staging her striking exhibitions at PAC, so it’s been absolutely fantastic to be able to continue sharing her inspirational work with the public in the midst of the pandemic by taking the exhibition outdoors. 

“It’s been brilliant to see so many people enjoying the opportunity to engage with art at this time, and we’re looking forward to sharing it with many more people as we bring the exhibition to the NHS York Vaccination Centre.”

The 21 posterboards are all-weather and ideal for transferring to other locations, hence Sue and Pocklington Arts Centre’s shared enthusiasm for touring the exhibition after the reaction to the Pocklington run.

 NHS York Vaccination Centre site manager Will McEvoy, Nimbuscare director of quality and patient experience Michelle Phillips, artist Sue Clayton and Pocklington Arts Centre director Janet Farmer at the unveiling of 21

“The idea to bring it to the Vaccination Centre came about just in conversation with Michelle really: a lovely correlation of discussing when I would present the commission piece and me saying I would love to show ’21’ in York, if only I could think of a venue. A lightbulb moment!” says Sue.

“When Sue offered us the 21 exhibition, we jumped at the opportunity,” says Michelle. “There’s so much colour in the portraits, and the way they have transformed the tent is amazing.”

Among the 21 portraits is Andrew, the son of a Nimbuscare vaccinator, lead nurse Theresa Ollerenshaw. “I’ve known Sue since Andrew was a baby and she’s been doing inspiring art ever since I’ve known her,” she says.

“She’s spreading awareness of Down Syndrome, and so many people are going to see these portraits when ordinarily they wouldn’t. I love how they capture young people enjoying life. It’s going to be very strange coming in and seeing Andrew whenever I’m in here!”

“Andrew was one of the new pen and ink portraits I did in lockdown,” says Sue. “With Andrew having beautiful Titian red hair, I just wanted to capture that, and it’s been a joy to be able to sit down and do these portraits, listening to BBC Sounds.”

Nimbuscare vaccinator Theresa Ollerenshaw stands beside Sue Clayton’s portrait of her son Andrew from the 21 exhibition at the NHS York Vaccination Centre

Now, two new options are in the pipeline for 21. “Hopefully, Hull Waterside & Marina and Bradford…so far,” says Sue. “More immediately, a short video of the exhibition is going to be featured in a pop-up art show at Kirkgate Market in Leeds.

“I was absolutely blown away by the positive feedback I received in Pocklington, so I’m really excited about now taking it to other venues so that many more people can browse the portraits and join me in celebrating young people with Down Syndrome at work and play. 

“My son James, who’s a huge inspiration for me, turned 18 in lockdown, so this was the perfect time to put this exhibition together and I hope it brings a lot of joy to people after what has been such a challenging time for so many.”

Six questions for York artist Sue Clayton on vaccine jabs, new projects, art classes, lockdown and life after June 21.

Your Tent Of Hope painting features the Vaccination Centre at Askham Bar. Did you have your jab there?

“I’ve now had both jabs as I’m classed as a carer because my son, James, has Down Syndrome. We had ours at the Haxby Group practice, although I did support my mum on both occasions to the Askham Bar site…it was that first sight of the gleaming white domes that stays in my mind.”

Artist Sue Clayton and her son James

Did you find going for the first jab emotional?

“On my own jab, I didn’t feel too emotional, but the first time I took my mum, I did. She was nervous and is hard of hearing, so I was pleased to go in with her for support.

“I felt the same again, supporting James for his jab. He’s had to shield and it really felt like a positive step forward. The feeling of now having both jabs gives us a reassurance we’ve never felt before.”

How are your art projects progressing: when might we see the results?

“Oohhh…I’m on with an exciting new project, which came about from a conversation on a park bench in the Museum Gardens. I was having a chat with Michael Miles, who’s a lifelong York City fan and creates the Y-Front fanzine.

“Although not a follower of football myself, he held me captivated as he talked about his love for his team and what Bootham Crescent meant to him. One of those conversations where someone’s passion for something sparks your own interest to listen to them. 

Sue Clayton’s playful self-portrait

“I also learned that York City Football Club celebrates its centenary next year. So, a plan has come together: I’m painting a series of portraits of the fans to be revealed all together next year. The fans are sending me their photos and I’ll be including many through the years. I’m loving it!

“Also, excitedly, I hope to collaborate with Tony Cope. His photography is just exquisite and I’m a huge fan. He captures such a poignancy and feeling in his work. Watch this space.”

How are the art classes you lead online going?

“They’re going well. I love that I now have people tuning in each week from all over the UK and the Netherlands too! It’s interesting that this time last year I panicked about using this new-fangled Zoom ‘whatdoyacallit’ and now I’m reticent to return to face-to-face teaching as it suits me so well.”

If you could sum up your life in Lockdown x 3 in five words, what would they be?

“Lockdown 3 has been the hardest in many ways for me. I was devastated that my relationship ended, and as we came out of lockdown, I lost my lovely dog to cancer – so, not the best of times. 

“My five words? Sadness, loss but new beginnings.”

What do you most want to be able to do after “freedom day” on June 21(hopefully!)?

If it’s safe to do so, I’m looking forward to giving people hugs again. I’m naturally quite tactile and, boy, I’ve missed contact with people. I’m looking forward to seeing live gigs, theatre, cinema, and meals out again too.

Jab in the art: Sue Clayton’s portraits on show for when you take a seat at the NHS York Vaccination Centre at Askham Bar