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Making Waves – Ken Currie’s Three Oncologists

October 1, 2009

Just as it did when first unveiled in 2002, today in 2009 and coinciding with its time as Portrait of the Month, Ken Currie’s Three Oncologists continues to make waves, especially in the medical world, as David Payne’s recent post on the British Medical Journal’s blog illustrates. 

Ken Currie - The Oncologists

The triple portrait probably wins hands down as the Portrait Gallery work which has had ascribed to it the most number of comments, some examples being: ‘stark and extremely direct’, ‘a haunting intensity and bleakness’, ‘scary’, ‘spooky’, ‘extraordinary’, ‘macabre and threatening’, ‘far from macabre…inspirational’, ‘thought provoking’, ‘reminds me of von Trier’s Riget, ‘one of the most extraordinary paintings I have seen for a long time’, ‘evokes the negative mystique and fear of the profession’, ‘sums up the humanity, humility and clear sighted persistent intelligence required to make significant progress’, and finally – ‘very moving, but hard to pin down why.’  Make up your own mind when Ken’s work will be a major exhibit in our Portrait of the Nation display from November 2011.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. David Robson permalink
    January 24, 2011 1:58 pm

    I saw this yesetrday and it literally took my breath away. The sheer scale of it, the horror dream-like quality of it is absolutely superb. It says everything about what cancer is and the portraits of the three surgeons are eerily beautiful. I stood and looked at this for fifteen minutes. I couldn’t bring myself to give it just a cursory glance. There is so much to see here. Beautiful and absolutely chilling.

  2. Imogen Gibbon permalink
    January 26, 2011 1:54 pm

    Thanks for your comment. I’m really looking forward to seeing the Three Oncologists by Ken Currie back in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and seeing our visitors interact with it.

  3. Holly Watson permalink
    March 2, 2011 8:30 pm

    I’ve been doing an analyist on this painting in school recently and iv’e grown to admire Ken Currie and his artwork…some of it is rather gruesome but beautiful at the same time. This would have to be my favourite painting of his as although it is painted like most of his other artwork with that typical luminous glowing ghostly theme, the faces on this painting are just so detailed and flawless! I love the comparison between the bluriness of there bodies and then the accuracy of there facial features. I don’t quite understand how this painting is linked to cancer though?

    • David Robson permalink
      March 3, 2011 9:35 am


      In relation to the cancer aspect, look at the gloves of the consultant of the left. Blood implies invasive surgery, look at the centre consultant with the ‘light’ in his hands – he is seeking out the cancer. Look at the consultant on the right. He is drawing aside the curtain, in an attempt to reveal the cancer and also to assist the consultant with the ‘light’. The blackness behind the curtain is the complexity of the cancer – we still don’t have a cure so it remains in darkness.

      Look at the consultants faces and eyes – they look very tired from the efforts they have expended in searching for a cure.

  4. Holly Watson permalink
    March 14, 2011 11:11 pm

    Gutted i didn’t check for any comments before i handed in my art essay! Everything you said i hadn’t even noticed before and really is a great summary of the disease. Thankyou

    • David Robson permalink
      March 15, 2011 8:18 am

      Tut! It is as easy as this though. All this expert speak about art is where the experts sees something which isn’t there, is rubbish. I remember a Picasso painting which had hung in the Tate Modern for years and the critics went wild. When Picasso actually visited the Tate Modern he noticed his painting hanging. He kindly informed them that it was hanging upside-down!

      Good Luck with the essay!

  5. March 15, 2011 12:12 pm

    Glad this post has started a debate….

  6. April 6, 2011 2:06 pm

    New exhibition of Ken Currie’s work at Flowers 82 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8DP
    opens 8 April 2011

  7. Steve Chinn permalink
    January 4, 2012 6:13 pm

    This painting is just hands down brilliant. In its place in the new Gallery, it works well – because it can’t be avoided as you enter the room. My partner has cancer and today we went to see this painting for the third time (once in the old gallery on Princes Street, and twice in the new gallery). It’s just truthful – cancer is overwhelming and impenetratable, we know little about it, and the light in the painting represents the stunning efforts of hugely dedicated people to cast light. When someone has cancer, everything becomes euphemistic (‘your cancer journey’ and so on) – this painting cuts right through that.

  8. January 9, 2012 4:44 pm

    Dear Steve

    Thanks for your comments. It really is a painting to view and then react to in the flesh.

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