Art: Just what the doctor ordered

Consultant cardiologist Carl Vaughan is among a group of medics exhibiting their artwork at the Jennings Gallery, in UCC, until January. COLETTE SHERIDAN talks to him about where he finds his inspiration, the benefits of having a creative outlet and our hospital service
Art: Just what the doctor ordered
Carl Vaughan Artist UCC pictured at the opening of the exhibition “Just What The Doctor Ordered” at the Jennings Gallery, College of Medicine & Health, UCC. The exhibition features arts and creative expressions by medical graduates.Picture: Gerard McCarthy.

AS well as a demanding career as a consultant cardiologist at Cork University Hospital, the Mercy Hospital and the Bon Secours, Dr Carl Vaughan is something of a Sunday painter.

Originally from Sunday’s Well Road and now living in Carrigrohane, this father-of-three has decorated the family home with his oil and acrylic paintings, depicting landscapes, seascapes, portraits and fish. But while his art work, rich in colour, looks very professional, Carl never contemplated a career as an artist.

He has always been interested in art, studying it at Christian Brothers’ College and gaining an ‘A’ in honours art in the Leaving Certificate. But art college wasn’t an option for Carl.

“Unless you’re exceptionally good, art isn’t a terribly viable way of making a living,” he says.

His work can be seen in an exhibition featuring other UCC medical graduates at the Jennings Gallery in the college of medicine and health at Brookfield health and science complex, UCC, until January 18.

Carl was more interested in studying medicine.

“I didn’t surrender the art completely. I did a little bit of art when I was a student and then I kind of gave it up and went to America. I came back to Cork as a consultant in my late thirties. Then I bought a house and had all these empty walls. So I was motivated to get back into the art again. I switched from oil to acrylic and set up a proper studio. I take photographs of the material and then I paint it.”

Fish are a source of wonder for Carl.

“A fish can be left dead on a slab. You take it home and cook it — or you can paint it and immortalise the fish’s colours on canvas. I’ve painted mackerel, crab, John Dory. The colours of these fish are often more than people realise. People tend to view them as grey but they have incredible colours, particularly mackerel. You can see the colours when the fish is oriented towards the light.”

Portraiture is very specialised. Carl wouldn’t describe himself as a portraitist but has done some portraits of his children who range in age from eighteen to eleven years.

“Portraiture is very difficult. Even photography as a means of capturing the human face can be difficult. We’ve all seen photos of ourselves that we don’t think we look like. Even the camera lies!

“The great portrait painters capture some of the spirit of the person. Colin Davidson in Belfast has painted a lot of famous people like Liam Neeson and Angela Merkel. His work is fantastic.

“I’ve dabbled in portraiture. I’ve done a few rugby scenes of fellows on rugby pitches including an upside down portrait of Irish prop, Cian Healy. It’s based on a newspaper photograph.”

Carl has painted a John Dory complete with what’s referred to as St Peter’s finger prints on the middle of the fish. He has painted in vivid colour the Blasket Island, Inis Tuaisceart, known as the ‘fear marbh’ (dead man). He used a photograph taken from Clogher Beach as the starting point for this beautiful painting.

“The photograph is much blander than the painting. I jazzed it up. There’s no point in painting reality. That’s what a photograph captures. With painting, I take colours and make them vivid.”

The painting of the island uses a lot of purple and is quite striking.

Does he paint medical procedures or zone in on body parts?

“I have enough of that during the day. I have done sketches of heart valves and arteries alright but it’s nice to do the really good stuff outdoors.”

Fifty-two-year-old Carl’s children dabble in art too, as well as other members of the family.

“My sister paints butterflies and my dad painted. There has always been a bit of an art gene floating around.”

Is working in medicine very stressful?

“I think the stress that comes from medicine in Ireland right now is largely driven by infra structure, by the demands put on the individual in an air space that may not be perfectly resourced to meet the demands.

“Some of the things we do in medicine in this country are world class and a great success. But I still think we have an issue with capacity, access, resourcing and staffing.

“The stresses I perceive in medicine right now are not the stresses of an individual caring for another individual. They are the stresses of an ecosystem as opposed to the individual being stressed.”

Carl firmly believes that old age “as a solitary target isn’t wise”.

“There’s the old argument of quality over quantity. Certainly, to reach your eighties or nineties banjaxed isn’t a victory. For our growing ageing population who have multiple illnesses overlapping and increasing problems with dementia, getting state-of-the-art care is a moving target for the HSE.

“The HSE has to keep up with demands and expectations and evolving technology. But old age isn’t a target. People strive to make 95 regardless of the cost, of the chances of an operation going wrong so that they end up in a nursing home with a stroke. You have to pick your battles carefully in old age.”

Prevention is of course better than a cure.

“That’s the biggest problem. We have a sedentary population. The dietary advice that has been handed down over the last fifty years has probably been erroneous. People are eating the wrong types of food or are eating too much and are not exercising enough. Exercise is the corner stone to well being. Society is designed to be sedentary.”

Carl practises what he preaches, going to the gym and running.

“It’s good to distress with exercise.”

And, no doubt, Carl finds art a good antidote to the stresses of working as a doctor.

Carl is exhibiting alongside five other Cork-based medical graduates. They are Drs Aisling Campbell, Derek O’Connell, Conleth Murphy, Rob Plant and Michael Whelton. Appropriately enough for a de-stressing activity, the artwork on exhibit is entitled ‘Just What the Doctor Ordered.’ It continues until January.

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