Brazilian artist Gray Portela discovered the therapeutic effects of painting as a child. As an adult, he returned to painting as a way to process and cope with the pressure of practicing oncology in Brazil—a country where great socioeconomic disparity prevents many patients from getting the healthcare they need and limits the resources of the doctors trying to help them.
Working in oil, Portela’s paintings feature mostly blue figures centered on the background of an otherwise empty white canvas; he describes them as poems about his patients. Capturing moments that are both personal and universal, the unique qualities of each figure personify the patient’s individual experience, while their formal elements unify them, symbolizing the commonalities of human endurance—in Portela’s words, “life and death, pain and hope, victory and defeat”. By giving form to his feelings, Portela centers himself as artist and doctor, sharing with his viewers the challenge of fighting against a devastating disease and an inadequate healthcare system, and the emotional demands of providing care, hope and understanding to his patients and their families.