First artist exhibition in the Seven Hills Gallery

Posted on: 21 January 2021

Early in 2020, Arts in Health put out a call for artists and were thrilled to receive 55 applications from around the UK and beyond! The first two artists to exhibit were chosen from this selection by a panel including members of the Arts in Health team, a senior clinician and one of the Trust’s Public Governors.

Clare Smith was chosen as the first exhibiting artist as the panel found her work to be beautiful, inspirational, moving and fully encompassing the aims of the new gallery space. The connection of the work to Clare’s own healthcare journey was a key factor, especially as Clare spoke of the therapeutic effect of drawing and being creative despite what life throws at us, which chimes with our ethos here at Arts in Health.  

Clare Smith works from a studio in Dover, Kent. She has exhibited across the UK and is a cofounder of Dover Arts Development.

Since January 2019 she has been on maintenance chemo for bowel cancer.

‘On each treatment day – generally every fortnight – various medical solutions drip into my body over about 5–6 hours and I draw. The drawings are made in the chemo chair and I become totally absorbed while I am making them. 

‘As I draw, I allow marks to go through the paper from one drawing to the next and use that as the next starting point, along with marks made when using the paper as an underlay for other drawings, so the marks provide a history.’

This exhibition brings together 18 of over 50 drawings – a number that is growing all the while that the artist is undergoing fortnightly treatment for bowel cancer – done in the treatment chair at the Celia Blakey Day Unit of the William Harvey hospital in Ashford, Kent.

For artist and writer Simon Bill the work fits within the context of early abstraction and a tradition of work done by artists who are ill. He wrote:

The drawings are abstract, and, mostly, very dense. Abstract, but not non-representational. Far from it. The imagery is rich in associations; one in particular – The drawings can look very much like the sort of thing you might expect to see in a biology textbook or academic journal. The forms are cellular, amoebic, protozoan. This places the work squarely within an art historical context. The visual language of the Chemo day drawings is emphatically the artist’s own, and yet, with its redolence of the imagery generated by the life sciences, it can be seen as a new iteration of an approach that goes back to the origins of abstraction, more than 100 years ago.

Besides their roots in the history of abstraction there are other, more autobiographical, precedents for this body of work, seen as the measured response to an inordinate, profoundly challenging situation – Antonin Artaud’s notebooks, produced in 1945 whilst incarcerated at the asylum in Rodez; Ronald Searle’s war drawings, made whilst he was a POW in Burma.
To read the whole essay go to:


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The Arts in Health team relies on the goodwill of our dedicated team of volunteers. We also regularly work with professional artists and musicians on a variety of creative projects across the Trust.