YORK artist Karen Winship honours NHS staff in her new commission, Not Just A Vaccine, on show in the “Tent of Hope” at York Vaccination Centre, Askham Bar.
Karen’s acrylic-on-canvas work features ten staff from the Nimbuscare team at the vaccination site, where her NHS Heroes exhibition will greet visitors until the end of summer as they wait for their jabs and rest afterwards.
Not Just A Vaccine was commissioned by exhibition promoters Pocklington Arts Centre, ahead of Winship’s poignant portraits of frontline NHS workers taking up temporary residence in York after earlier pop-up displays on the railings of All Saints’ Church, Pocklington, and at Hull Waterside and Marina.
“I was approached to do the new painting when I was doing the publicity for the Hull Marina show in April/May time,” says Karen. “I took photographs of staff, and there are ten portraits within the painting, so it took time to arrange and to get the composition right. It needed 40 to 50 hours, which is unusual for me, as normally I ‘slap them out’ and they’re done!”
Pocklington Arts Centre (PAC) director Janet Farmer says: “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been making art accessible for all by taking two exhibitions by two fantastic York artists, Karen Winship and Sue Clayton, on tour to various locations in the region.
“When the opportunity to take NHS Heroes to the York Vaccination Centre arose, we couldn’t think of a more fitting location for these stunning portraits that have been created by a very talented artist.
“We hope they brighten up the space while honouring all those who have worked so hard at this challenging time.”
Karen says: “It has just been incredible to have been able to have my work toured across the region and seen by so many people thanks to PAC, and now it is in such a fitting, poignant location.
“The specially commissioned piece really finishes the collection off nicely and is a timely and relevant tribute to the team at the York Vaccination Centre, as well as to all NHS staff who have worked on the frontline throughout the pandemic.
“There’s still much work to be done and I hope my portraits bring some joy into the working day of the Nimbuscare team, as well the hundreds of daily visitors to the site.”
Around 1,500 people pass through the “Tent of Hope” at the Askham Bar NHS Vaccination Centre, where 3,000 visitors file through the site at its busiest times.
Michelle Philips, Nimbuscare’s director of quality and patient experience, says: “Showcasing art within the ‘Tent of Hope’ brightens up everyone’s visit to the vaccination centre and we’re so grateful to have yet another fantastic collection from the very talented Karen Winship. We’re delighted with the special piece of art she has done for us which will be treasured by us all.”
Karen started her career in graphic design before gaining her teaching degree and going on to work in a maximum-security prison as head of art. She paints mainly in acrylics, always looking for the narrative within an image, and that narrative at present revolves around the NHS.
“I’ve got the NHS bug, so I just seem to be obsessed, or maybe ‘upset’ is the better word for how I feel about the way the NHS is being overrun at the moment, and staff are just not being cared for,” she says.
“You can see how stretched they are, because so many staff are off with Covid or they’ve been ‘pinged’, which means they’re even more down on numbers. They’ve had to deal with the Covid pandemic and they’re tyring to catch up with everything else, so I’m now doing a series showing the exhaustion of the paramedics, doctors and nurses.
“I’ve done three so far. I’ve got a source close at hand because my eldest daughter Kelly [who features in the original NHS Heroes portraits] is an occupational therapist at York Hospital.”
Karen has further sources of inspiration for her subject matter. “My ex-husband husband, Kevin, is a paramedic and my father – who’s no longer with us – was a paramedic. I use references such as Kevin’s uniform for stock images,” she says.
Among the new series is the tribute piece Constant And Great. “I’ve taken an image of the statue of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, outside York Minster, and adapted it for the painting, where the figure still looks like him but now he has logos of key workers.
“He still has his cape but now it’s more of a hero cape, and he has a pair of trainers, thrown off by his bare feet. He has a nurse’s uniform and a stethoscope around his neck, and he’s now holding a staff of life, rather than a sword, in one hand, and a mask in the fingers of his other hand.”
Karen is “not sure what’s going to happen next with the series”, but says: “It would make sense, as it’s all about the NHS, to have the paintings put on show at York Hospital, but I already have my series of dementia paintings there, so I don’t really know what the plans are.
“Hopefully, I’ll get them shown at City Screen and I’ll approach York Art Gallery, as they’ve both shown my NHS Heroes portraits.
“These paintings are bursting out of me right now. I think one of the dementia paintings has been taken down at the hospital for being ‘too depressing’, but that’s what we’re going through. These are troubled times.”