A Portrait of Ageing

The Art of Intelligent Ageing is a fascinating exhibition of Fionna Carlisle’s portraits of the Lothian Birth Cohorts (LBCs).

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.

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. This makes the LBCs some of the most-intensively studied research participants in the world.

In their portraits, Fionna Carlisle captures the personalities behind this remarkable group of older people, who can be credited with fundamentally altering our understanding of ageing.

The paintings are shown alongside scientific elements 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. Others are side by side with photographs of the participants as children, or at points much earlier in their lives. The result is an exploration of the cycle of life that is both scientific and emotional in equal measure.

Fionna says: “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 Wick-born artist herself studied at Edinburgh College of Art and has exhibited her work across the world, including New York, Chicago, Moscow and Paris.

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.”

Further information on the artist and previous exhibitions can be found here: www.fionnacarlisle.com/

A podcast on the exhibition can be found here: https://forwardthinking.ppls.ed.ac.uk/2018/08/31/portraits-of-the-lothian-birth-cohort/

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.

The Fire Station, Edinburgh College of Art. Running until 24 November, Tuesday- Saturday 10-4. Free entry:

Image credits: Douglas Robertson. The first shows Alexa Purves and the second is of John Scott alongside the artist, Fionna Carlisle.


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