I'm a keen amateur painter myself, and John was kind enough to give me lessons. I did a portrait of him at the time which was very different from the ones he was doing of himself, which were all about heroic suffering.
I think I learnt two things from John; on the technical side I learnt about the use of colours. He's a magnificent colourist and he encouraged me to use bright colours. Second, he gave me the idea of painting operations from an emotional rather than purely anatomical side. I often sit down and paint my patients - it creates a completely different relationship from normal. I find it works especially well with children. If they come into hospital it means their lives have usually been pretty unpleasant, and a doctor can seem terrifying. But I find that if I come in with my pencils they change immediately.
It was very appropriate when the National Portrait Gallery suggested that John do a portrait of me. He had this idea to do two versions of me. He was certainly well aware that I have two approaches to my work: the medical, obviously, and what you might call the aesthetic.
INTERVIEW BY ANDREW MACPHERSON
John Bellany's 1992 portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, WC2 (0171 306 0055)Reuse content