Working with long-term prisoners in HMP Shotts, Senior Outreach Officer Robin Baillie and the filmmaker Lou MacLoughlan developed a series of workshops that encouraged the men taking part to reflect on their lives and develop the artistic skills to represent themselves. Some of the men had never had the opportunity to look at themselves before this point or take responsibility for shaping their identity.

Participants were moved by discovering the motivations behind portraits from across the national art collection including Ken Currie’s Three Oncologists and Sir William Nicolson’s Sir James Matthew Barrie. They discussed and analysed these portraits to reveal how the portraitist delivers the character of his or her subject. The portrait was broken down into its component parts; eyes, features, pose, gesture and setting, to examine how personal experiences, emotions and social identities are communicated in paintings.

Those taking part have met the challenge to share a process of self-investigation, which is unusual in the guarded world of the prison. Aided by the collaborative presence of the filmmaker, the men have thought deeply about who they are and what they might become.

The portraits they have created, which are dramatically conceived and deeply moving, reveal honest assessments of themselves and their hopes for the future

Three Oncologists (Professor RJ Steele, Professor Sir Alfred Cuschieri and Professor Sir David P Lane of the Department of Surgery and Molecular Oncology, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee), Ken Currie, 2002 − © Ken Currie