Pensioners from the Lothian Birth Cohorts celebrated in portraits

A new exhibition of vibrant portraits in the Capital is to honour a group of pensioners credited with fundamentally altering our understanding of ageing.

Monday, 22nd October 2018, 8:37 am
Updated Monday, 22nd October 2018, 8:38 am
Lothian Birth Cohorts member John Scott with artist Fionna Carlisle and his portrait which went on display on Sunday. Picture: Contributed

The portraits – painted by renowned artist Fionna Carlisle – capture the personalities behind the Lothian Birth Cohorts (LBCs), some of the most-intensively studied research participants in the world.

The LBCs are a unique group of people – now in their 80s and 90s – who sat intelligence tests as 11-year olds.

Since 1999 they have taken part in thinking tests, brain scans, and health and lifestyle assessments, transforming our understanding of how early life influences healthy ageing.

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Alexa Purves with her portrait. Picture: Contributed

Included in the exhibition is her new portrait of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Professor Peter Higgs – who took part in a previous study of healthy ageing at the University of Edinburgh.

Professor Ian Deary, director of the Lothian Birth Cohorts and the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, said: “The Lothian Birth Cohorts have encouraged my scientific team to scour their minds, bodies, and histories to build rich and valuable accounts of their negotiating the ‘whips and scorns of time’.

“Fionna’s beautiful portraits weave the life story of each individual into the painting.”

More than one billion data points have been collected for each of the LBCs’ members. These have revealed that both genetics and lifestyle factors contribute to healthy ageing.

Wick-born artist Ms Carlisle studied at Edinburgh College of Art and has exhibited her work across the world, including New York, Chicago, Moscow and Paris.

Through graphic, bold brushstrokes, Ms Carlisle has depicted the LBC members.

She has painted prominent figures in Scotland, including former First Minister Alex Salmond – which hangs in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery – and the late former foreign secretary Robin Cook, which is part of the House of Commons Art Collection. Ms Carlisle, said: “These portraits were painted over seven years and reflect the relationship that I built up with the sitters over this time. With these paintings I wanted to filter age and show the youth and spirit of the older sitters as people who have real bodies and limbs, spirit and life.”

The paintings will be shown alongside scientific treasures from the study participants, including a 3D-printed brain and a highly-detailed crystal etching of the brain’s wiring from one of the participants.

The Art of Intelligent Ageing: Portraits of the Lothian Birth Cohorts has been curated by former Keeper of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Dr Duncan Thomson.

It is free to attend and will run at Edinburgh College of Art from Saturday October 27 until November 24.