I spent Friday at the offices of the National Cancer Research Institute in Islington, where this large self-portrait was 'unveiled'.
The story behind the painting is a rather complex one, which I will write about more fully another time.
In short, following my initial treatment for breast cancer in mid 2008 I wanted to depict my own continuing beauty and femininity – after surgery which deeply challenged those feelings by changing my body.
Adopting my preferred technique of painting from life using a mirror, I worked on the painting straight after finishing a course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The painting was completed in March 2009.
The painting was not what I had envisaged. I think the anger I felt at the time is apparent, and that the painting is quite confrontational. I had used myself as a model for as long as I could remember, and I suppose I was challenging myself not to allow this to stop – not to hide – because of my mastectomy.
The finished painting became the nucleus of the Breast Cancer LIFE travelling exhibition, and when that concluded I donated the painting to the NCRI.
I am deeply honoured that they should have chosen to hang it, and have done so in a very public area of the building in which they are housed with Cancer Research UK. It was wonderful to meet so many of the staff there, and I am immensely grateful for their hospitality and the interest they have showed.
The two top photographs show me with the painting alongside Dame Janet Husband, Chair of the NCRI; Dot Browning, my colleague and collaborator on Breast Cancer LIFE; and Alison, one of my models.
The photograph below was taken in my studio while I was working on the painting, and gives an idea of the approach I took.
I was kneeling, in order to concentrate on my torso, and was using my right hand to paint (you can see I'm holding the brush) and then check the large mirror which was to my front-left. I worked in natural light, but had a blind half-down to provide some privacy. This photograph shows the painting-in-progress, and you can see that I was having to work particularly hard on the right arm as it was this that I was continually moving as I painted.
It was a tough picture to paint, but I'm very glad I did it.