I just finished my biggest commissioned project yet- 14 original paintings for the new Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC). Check out the process of creating all of these meaningful works meant to inspire and spread joy among everyone who sees them.
Creating this many paintings for the new hospital was quite the undertaking! I started the planning of the project in June of 2017 and completed the works in time for the unveiling in March of 2018. I worked closely with a team of staff from the hospital and their art curator, Vicki Hovde to create a body of work meant to brighten an often dreary place and ease the minds of patients and staff.
For this beautiful new state-of-the-art hospital, I wanted my art to lend itself to the space appropriately. The hospital feels open, modern and contemporary (relatively speaking in hospital terms!), and I wanted my art to match! I wanted to push the boundaries just enough and move away from "safe" hospital art that can sometimes be boring. It was also important to me that the meaning of each piece, once discovered by the viewer, made each painting truly beautiful from the inside out.
But wait... there were some limitations to what I was told I couldn't paint.
Hospital art has it's limitations... so I discovered! While using bright and pretty colors was never a problem, I needed to be extra careful with my subject matter, while still conveying the messages I wanted in order to make the art meaningful. HCMC gave me some guidelines I needed to follow based upon past artwork that either worked or did not work in the hospital setting.
I was told no abstracts (because someone found a male body part in one some time ago), no faces or figures (because some cultures and religions are sensitive to exposed skin in art) and no horses because horses are too big and powerful of a creature to put in a hospital where some people might feel a sense of fear.
So basically, I was left to paint super safe florals, landscapes and still-lifes. Sad face. Yawn.
So what did I do? I broke the rules!
Well, not entirely. I love a good challenge! Contemporary horses and portraits/figurative are my two favorite subjects, and they're also my best subjects, technically speaking. What artist doesn't want to show their best work for such a huge public space? I had to somehow make the hospital trust me with some horses and figures.
We came to a happy medium... I would have to learn to paint florals (in my own Valerie way, of course!) along with a few "safe-ish" pieces as long as they would trust me with a few horses and figures. I promised that the figurative pieces I would do would not be my norm- I would show diversity in my portraits along with a strong message that anyone could understand.
I especially needed the trust of the hospital to allow me to my very large, very prominent showcase piece for the first-floor main hallway. I wanted to do two larger-than-life horses- not scary, wild ones, but gentle and loving. Like the horses i spent much of my childhood with.
It was a stretch, but thankfully the hospital let me do it!
Each individual painting has it's own unique and optimistic message about life, love and the wisdom that comes with age and experience. A LOT of thought went into planning what messages were to be shown and how to carefully do so within the hospital's criteria. Showing human faces and figures is not usually a subject that works well in hospitals, so I had to be extra careful to make sure my figurative paintings had a message far stronger than their visual for them to work.
As a whole, the paintings have a mission... to ignite a conversation among strangers, to change someones day for the better and to spread a little optimism in a sometimes scary place. The paintings are a celebration of life, love and finding beauty in the simple things. They are meant to unite people of all ages, backgrounds and color. They're a reminder of the most important things in life that lead to happiness... love, gratitude and giving back.
Through cheery colors, different subject matters and mixed mediums, it's up to the viewer to discover those hidden messages while they are waiting or wandering the halls. It is then that you will notice the hidden messages, sometime in collage, in symbolism, quotes or written words around the edge of the canvases. The hidden messages might not be obvious upon first sight, but that's what I wanted. I want the viewer to discover the message and interpret it in their own way.
My showcase piece, "Love is All You Need" is a very big 70"x82" acrylic/mixed media on canvas painting of.... HORSES! It was a risk for the hospital, who was originally skeptical of having horses in such a prominent space that everyone walks by each day. But luckily, the finished painting eased their fears. You don't need to be a horse lover to appreciate the gentle bond between these two besties. They invite you into their world with their velvety noses touching... the horse version of "hey, I'm glad you're with me". Everyone from the hospital loved it! I knew they would!
It was around 1am as I was finishing up this piece and a Beatles song, "All you need is love" came into play. I thought the lyrics were perfect for the message of this painting, so I even scribbled those words into the background with oil pastel. That is how I titled this piece, too. It all came together perfectly! You can see this painting in person on the first floor main corridor of the hospital... you can't miss it, it's huge!
A super special thanks to Jantze Haley for picking me to be the artist for this special project! I am beyond honored. Thanks to Vicki Hovde for her expertise and feedback during the creative process that- without doubt- has made me a better artist! Last but not least, thanks to HCMC for trusting me with some fun new art that I hope brings happiness for years to come!
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