Vital Arts, the arts organisation for Barts Health NHS Trust, recently unveiled its latest commission at the Royal London Hospital – an installation in the dental ward by artist and illustrator Stephen Smith of Neasden Control Centre…
CR has written about several of Vital Arts’ other projects at the Royal London, notably its work with designers and artists in the children’s hospital. Smith was initially approached by the organisation last year to create work for the dental ward and worked on ideas with head doctors and staff on the ward.
“I wanted to develop a lot of work as I wanted to create a whole world for the characters, animals, forests and buildings, to sit in,” says Smith. “Going back to the brief, it was important that being in an inner city hospital the artwork responded to the nature of the site in Whitechapel – and reflected the urban nature of many of the kids who use it. I wanted to create an environment that responded to this, but also build a world that was wild and full of animals and forests.”
Large vinyl graphics and illustrations, together with a series of limited edition giclée prints are displayed across the first and second floors of the hospital, in children’s wards and treatment rooms. According to Vital Arts, much of the artwork is used in locations where Smith’s illustrations can be viewed from the dental chair – to help relax patients while creating a warm and stimulating environment for the dental staff.
Using vinyl also means the artworks can be cleaned, while the colour scheme blends with the existing colours of the dental furniture and equipment in the ward to create a balance between the work on display and the hospital architecture.
“The other difficulty was to make sure that the work was not too ‘young’ or ‘old’, as the age range of kids using the ward ranges from very young to teenage,” Smith explains. “It needed to be cool but not too scary. Another tricky thing was the layout of the ward, which is very busy in terms of patients and furniture, and the fact that there wasn’t one single large wall that could used to hang from.”
All the artwork is therefore site-specific and was carefully measured to fit between furniture, along corridors, by the side of ash basins, around pillars and so on. “It was a major challenge to design and ensure that there was a good flow of work throughout the space and that not one single area was dominating another,” adds Smith.
“I think all the years of me doing interior and installation work came into play with this work. Over that time I’ve developed a way of working that can be used in 2D and now 3D which relies on using a different spatial sensibility and use of scale.”