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A well-rounded university experience: BA Fine Art student Nikitah Patel volunteers at Painting in Hospitals charity

image courtesy of the artist Nikitah Patel
image courtesy of the artist Nikitah Patel
image courtesy of the artist Nikitah Patel
Written by
Isabelle Gressel
Published date
25 April 2017

BA Fine Art student Nikitah Patel is currently in her 2nd year at Chelsea College of Arts. She has been volunteering for the Painting in Hospitals (PiH) charity based at University College Hospital (UCH), in London. Being a student at Chelsea is not just about developing your practice but also gaining new experiences through work experience or volunteer opportunities, and making the most of living in the vibrant city of London. We caught up with Nikitah to find out more about her practice and involvement with Painting in Hospitals.

What do you like most about London and Chelsea?

The best thing about Chelsea is being a part of the studios. I love coming in and making work alongside my course mates who explore different disciplines and make completely different kinds of work to my own. It creates an ongoing conversation between all the work in the space. Being right next to the Thames, the studios have the best views of the river and they are flooded with natural light which creates a really inspiring working environment.

Tell us about your practice?

Within my practice I am exploring objects within environments. I am interested in accidental marks and the finer details of objects that would normally go unnoticed. I am exploring natural objects (e.g. foliage and plants) through drawing and photography, taking moments of time and breaking them down, flattening landscapes and rebuilding them through colour.

I have also been making work from found objects (e.g. building materials and scraps from skips) as I am fascinated by these kinds of material and the history that such objects have lived. Industrial objects are usually overlooked as they lie behind walls and are nestled within the inaccessible recesses of buildings. Displacing such objects from these contexts reduces their functionality and by painting onto them I am creating something which seeks to draw attention to the accidental marks made on the objects by time and place.

image courtesy of the artist Nikitah Patel

Image courtesy of the artist Nikitah Patel

What is Paintings in Hospitals?

Paintings in Hospitals (PiH) is a charity which was established in London in 1959. Several of the charity’s patrons are the artists Sir Antony Gormley, Bridget Riley, Ian Davenport and Maggi Hambling, whose works are also included within the collection.

The charity has a strong belief that art improves wellbeing and is conducive to creating a welcoming environment, to aid in the healing process. PiH is recognised by the Department of Health and NHS England, and is a partner to the Arts Council Collection within the health and social care sector.

As well as providing a variety of activities and art engagement projects, PiH manages a collection of nearly 4,000 artworks that are loaned to health and social care providers such as GP surgeries and hospitals across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

How did you get involved in Paintings in Hospitals?

The opportunity to volunteer with PiH came about when, as a student ambassador, I gave a tour of the BA Fine Art Degree Show to Ben Pearce, the director of the charity.

What have you been doing with them as a volunteer?

The London-based centre for the artworks which go on loan is a display situated across two floors at University College Hospital. Every month artworks are selected and others are returned by healthcare organisations, and myself and the other volunteers clean and package the works before they are sent to the sites. Once the selected works have been sent off, we rehang the returned artworks or other works from the collection in their place. I’m now also giving guided tours of the artworks on display at loan site hospitals around London, called ‘artWalks’, which ground the artworks within context for the public. Patients and staff around the hospital have noticed the artworks as they are regularly changing. I’ve had some interesting conversations while hanging new works and taking old works down.


image courtesy of the artist Nikitah Patel

Image courtesy of the artist Nikitah Patel

How does this connect with your practice and professional practice?

As a volunteer with PiH I have learnt many skills which will be transferable into a professional environment within the arts sector. I have been taught how to handle, hang and care for artworks, how to carry out condition checks and how to package them to be sent to loan sites. This will prove useful when it comes to planning the installation of my final degree show. My knowledge of the art works is expanding through the tours I’m now giving, and this develops my analysis of artworks and has changed my thinking about how I talk about art to different audiences, including for PiH, children, adults and other groups.

It has been really interesting to recognise and appreciate the value of the work within its hospital environment. UCH is a public place and we often have conversation with patients and visitors about the collection. I think it’s great for such a diverse and continually changing range of artworks to be on display for everyone to see, from both well and lesser known artists.

Do you have any advice for people thinking of studying BA Fine Art at Chelsea?

As my practice is multi-disciplinary the course at Chelsea fits and supports me as an artist. I am able to explore different mediums within Fine Art. This complements my way of working as the course is not project-based, allowing the work I make to take diverse forms on my own terms.

This is the time to take risks with your practice, so test out new materials and ideas, collaborate with your peers, find a place for your work within the contemporary scene and exhibit as much work as possible. Be sure to also see as many shows as you can: galleries, museums, degree/summer shows…inspiration and context can come from anywhere and everywhere.

Find out more about BA Fine Art at Chelsea