About Thomas Leveritt
Tom Leveritt has won the Carroll Medal for Portraiture from the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and, for his writing, the Somerset Maugham Award for Literature and the Betty Trask first novel award. Exhibition History: BP Award at the National Portrait Gallery (1999, 2000, 2007, 2020); Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Christie’s.
Portraits for NHS Heroes
Subjects: Emily Housman & Funmi Tayo
Original Artworks: 185 x 125 cm, oil on linen
“I did it over the winter and it stars Emily Housman and Funmi Tayo, colleagues in the maternity unit at the James Paget University Hospital in Norfolk. It’s pre-virus but still a pretty angry painting – angry that these guys’ idealism and willingness to help others is being systematically plundered like any other natural resource. Obviously the issue is well to the fore now, but I think what’s wanted isn’t so much applause as it is decent pay, decent staffing levels, and above all, a decent party in government to reverse the slow dissolution of the NHS.”
“Emily is a good friend and a midwife at the James Paget University Hospital on the east coast of Norfolk. Like most people in the NHS, she finds herself under severe strain as a result of Tory policies undermining the viability of our health system. She rises to the challenge, but essentially her life force and goodwill are being plundered like any other natural resource, and the money saved on paying her properly is used to buy underfloor heating in second homes across the home counties.
“I wanted to paint a portrait of her that captured both the selflessness and the unravelling. While she was resting in the corridor at the JP, a colleague of hers at the maternity unit, Funmi Tayo, came by moving from one medical situation to another. They exchanged a few words, then moved on. But in that moment there was a quiet confluence of many different systems: of professional respect, gallows humour, exhaustion, and above all a doomed heroism that knew that failure was inevitable, the only question being how long it could be kept at bay. The spectre of Bawa-Garba hangs over everyone.
“Funmi is depicted in a pose reminiscent of Henry VIII, to convey moral and medical authority, with a gaze that poses a moral and medical question. Emily looks elsewhere, worrying about what’s next. The hospital is painted as a boring place, whose boringness disguises genuine chaos. A convex mirror depicts the two from behind, like the Arnolfini: a working partnership in the maternity ward requires its own very real intimacy.”
BP Award at the National Portrait Gallery (1999, 2000, 2007, 2020);
Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Christie’s.