Art therapy


Since spring 2005 passersby in the U of C Hospitals’ Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine have watched New York artist Audrey Ushenko create a large painting of the building’s three-story atrium, where she set up her canvas. This week Ushenko, a member of the National Academy of Design and a professor at Indiana University–Purdue University, Fort Wayne, puts the final touches on the 5 x 8-foot oil painting, which includes portraits of about 25 staff members, patients, and visitors.

As part of Chicago’s Art-in-the-Hospital program, Ushenko began by drawing the architecture and sketching the volunteer models. This past summer she composed the larger painting and started to add the details. She first noticed the space when she brought her husband for a clinic visit, impressed by the atrium’s open appearance and natural light. During subsequent visits she came to appreciate the ongoing human drama quietly played out each day in the specialty clinics that open onto the atrium.

While she painted, patients and staff observed the process, asking questions as Ushenko made compositional decisions and fine-tuned. “Many people have taken a lasting interest in the work,” Ushenko said. “They stop by to see how it’s coming, what’s changed since their last visit. Patients tell me it’s a nice distraction, something cheering and peaceful, unrelated to their medical issues. They look forward to seeing the project advance. Many say it can make treatment easier.”

Ushenko hopes to finish up the work this Friday or Monday. Once complete, it will likely be displayed in the Hospitals for several months before being shipped to her gallery, Denise Bibro Fine Art of New York, and sold. Negotiations with a potential buyer are already under way.

John Easton, AM’77

Photo: Ushenko wields her brush.

January 9, 2006