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Wealth of fine artistry from medics

10 September, 2020 — By John Gulliver

Transplant surgeon Nadey Hakim with his bust of Boris Johnson

IN the shadowlands of the medical world you often come across doctors who have crossed over to become writers, actors, even entertainers, but there is another space they warm up to – art, paintings and sculpture.

Occasionally, doctors I have known have swapped the scalpel for the brush and canvas. A beautiful English land­scape hangs in my kitchen by a late neighbour and eminent doctor, John Horder, a well-known family physician as well as a leading figure in national medicine.

However, I tasted a full view of this quiet passage where medics let loose their imagination at an exciting preview on Tuesday at Hampstead School of Art where you can see stunning work by doctors who are occupied mostly as GPs, surgeons, even renowned trans­plant specialists but who in their spare moments slip away to allow another wing of their imagination to take flight.

Busts of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump beckon you but there are other sculptured artworks in silver, for instance, that draw you in as well as an almost frightening skull with a halo over it of an imagined coronavirus.

A conversation with artist Vladimir Filipovich can be a bit disconcerting when you discover that somehow all his life – he is now 64 – he always loved art and the pursuit of all its forms, and has retired from medicine to pursue abstract art and sculpture full time. What was he in that other world of medicine? A trauma surgeon, a field surgeon in the Bosnian war, a man who has performed more than 30,000 operations.

Vladimir Filipovich with Isabel Langtry, Hampstead School of Art principal

Canvases crowded the walls set aside for the exhibition, engaging you with representational, abstract, all kinds of experimental waves. One caught my eye by Dr Ilana Crome, an acrylic with deep-set colours conjuring up hidden touches of the master JMW Turner with perhaps – more in my imagination than elsewhere – bits of Auerbach lurking around the canvas. Dr Crome, originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, is a psychiatrist, lives near the art school, and took to the canvas for the first time five years ago, another medic seduced by art.

As the shadow of Covid deepens over our lives, it was not surprising I found myself with just two or three doctors who were exhibiting at the show – the fact that it was held at all was a bit of miracle. The doctor-artists, I noticed, stuck to greetings with elbows while I, always a bit of a risker, held out my hand for an old-fashioned shake.

One of the doctors who turned up was a world-known transplant surgeon Nadey Hakim, whom I have spoken to over the phone but never met. Mr Hakim, who lives near the art school, was exhibiting, among other exhibits, his bronze busts of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump. A supporter of the Conservatives, it seems, Mr Hakim arranged for his bust of David Cameron to be auctioned for £90,000 as a fundraising exercise. The Boris bust may also raise money at an auction before being displayed, according to Mr Hakim, at the Carlton Club.

Politically mercurial and generously imaginative, Mr Hakim a couple of years ago did a bust of the Great Supreme Leader of the North Korea which was delivered across the world to Pyongyang.

As a Lebanese, Mr Hakim is only too aware of the tragic disproport-ionate number of deaths among black and brown front-liners among doctors, nurses and health workers in the battle against Covid-19, and we talked about fellow medics who had fallen in the war.


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