Paul Digby: Drawings and Sculptures (2016-2024)

Coastguard, graphite on paper, 1.5/1.2m
Mounted Police, graphite on paper, 1.5/1.2m
Firefighter, plaster cast and paint.

In a heartfelt tribute to the everyday heroes on the frontlines of the public sector, artist Paul Digby presents a compelling project that immortalizes the tireless efforts of emergency service and NHS frontline workers. Through intricate drawings and sculptures, Digby encapsulates the resilience and dedication of ICU ward nurses, paramedics, police, RNLI, Coast Guard, firefighters, doctors, facilities, and administrative staff, spanning the periods before, during, and after the pandemic. These artworks transform their stories into tangible expressions of gratitude and acknowledgment.

The sculptures, meticulously crafted using plaster, polymer, fibreglass, and pigments, stand as three-dimensional tributes to the indomitable spirit of those who brave the front lines. Each piece serves as a testament to the sacrifices made by frontline professionals, reflecting the artist’s deep connection to the subject matter and his commitment to preserving a crucial moment in history.

Clay model.

Digby’s drawings, rendered in graphite on paper, offer a two-dimensional exploration of the intense emotions and challenges faced by those within the healthcare system. These artworks serve as a visual narrative, inviting viewers to reflect on the profound impact of the pandemic on our collective consciousness.

Emily: Looking to the Future plaster, polymor, fibreglass and pigment.

As the narrative unfolds, we transition into “Emily: Looking to the Future,” a sculpture that emerged during the pandemic. Featuring Emily, an ICU ward nurse at St James Hospital who commenced her journey in January 2020, the statue embodies hope and resilience. Collaborating closely with Emily, Digby crafted a sculpture that gazes into the future, symbolising the optimism and determination shared by all frontline staff. Funded by a public contribution of approximately £20,000, this fibreglass, plaster, pigment, and resin composition stands as a collective achievement—a tangible symbol of gratitude. The sculpture is further immortalised with a poignant poem by Ian McMillan and will be permanently sited in St James Hospital grounds.

Link to film about Emily.

Poem about the sculpture by Ian McMillan entitled ART:
If caring is an art, then
She is art. She held
Those last breaths in her hands,
She left her smile
In the empty air
For someone to catch.
She turned up
As the world turned and
Turned again. She was there
When hope’s lights
Flickered and almost failed
And the long night ended

Staff with exhibition at St James Hospital.

The 2023/4 work entitled “Intensive Care” is not just a reflection on the past; it’s a guiding beacon to a new beginning. The earlier phase of the project, spanning from 2016 to 2019 entitled “Transcending the figure”, captured the essence of emergency service personnel through classical poses in both drawings and sculptures. Collaborations with community groups, schools, universities, galleries, and museums amplified the celebration of the public sector’s frontline.

See film about Transcending the figure.

The work found its place in prestigious venues such as EAST gallery, York College, Saul Hay Gallery, St James Hospital, Sheffield Emergency Services Museum, Leeds Museums and Galleries, and various independent venues throughout the UK.

Beyond the drawings and sculptures, Digby’s impact extended to the education sector. Workshops held at Shakespeare Primary School, COOP Academy Secondary School in Leeds, and Lionwood Infants School in Norwich allowed children to create their small clay figurative sculptures. The culmination of these efforts, including 700 figures created in schools, found a home in exhibitions across Norwich, Sheffield, Manchester, York, and North Lincolnshire. Lectures and seminars held at Leeds Beckett University and other locations throughout the UK further solidified the project’s educational and inspirational significance.

Gallery of images:

EAST show detail.
Emily with West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin at promotion event.
EAAA photo shoot.
Bridlington coast Guard photo shoot.
West Yorks mounted police photo shoot.
St James Hospital show detail.
Hands, graphite on paper, 120/150cm.
Jane Morgan (ICU ward manager) with drawings.
St James Hospital show detail.
St James Hospital show detail.
Casting Emily.
Casting Emily.
Paramedic, plaster, polymor and paint.
Nurse, plaster and paint.
Esther, plaster and paint.
RNLI, graphite on paper, 120/150cm.
Jonny: police, graphite on paper, 105/75cm.
Richard: paramedic, graphite on paper, 105/75cm.
EAST show detail.
EAST show detail.