For more than a year, Antonia Danby draped her hair over her right eye. She was hiding a lumpy cartilage-like growth, which was rapidly expanding from her eyebrow downwards to create a shelf-like overhang. It also threatened the sight in her right eye. When I meet her, she is holding a portrait painted several months before the operation which eventually removed her growth. It was painted by Mark Gilbert, a Glasgow artist, who is the Saving Faces artist-in-residence at St Bartholomew’s and the Royal London facial surgery unit.
His work is an unusual art therapy project. The portraits of patients at different stages in treatment – and during operations – reflect the conflicting and changing emotions that accompany disfigurement and traumatic surgery. Antonia, 32, a graphics production supervisor, felt immensely vulnerable to prying eyes as her lump grew. “There were many curious comments and I began to understand what those with more severe disease have to deal with.”
Many patients find the paintings of themselves therapeutic and, funds permitting, Saving Faces plans to study the benefits. One man with cancer took photographs of his portraits to help him communicate his anxieties to his family. The tiny studio at the Royal London is crammed with paintings, including one of Henry de Lotbinière, a barrister who has lost an eye to cancer. He wears his wig and gown and exudes both composure and a sense of humour. Gilbert aims to demystify complex and sometimes mutilating surgery: his paintings show the human face behind the cold, clinical reality.The future is looking better - The Daily Telegraph, 27 June 2000
Reproduced from the Daily Telegraph Health and Wellbeing section on 27th of June 2000. Article by Christine Doyle.