Bill and Jill Allan, painting with love

It’s Tuesday, and in a quiet convalescent home behind Wellington Regional Hospital, retired ballet dancer Jill Allan is rolling her husband, Bill, an Expressionist artist, down the hall.

The wheels of his chair creak as he winds past residents sitting in the tinsel-decorated dining room waiting for their meals and medication as they solve crosswords and re-runs of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Nurses and other Te Hopai staff smile as Jill announces they’ll get through wearing toy soldier earrings and a tray of acrylic paints, brushes, paper, a palette, and cleaning supplies. She talks to everyone like they are old friends.

Jill meanders through the corridors, navigating Bill through the rolling trays and the people on the stretcher waiting to be moved. A woman screeches as Bill rolls past her room.

Bill Allan paints expressionist works in which women are often portrayed boldly.

Ross Giblin / Stuff

Bill Allan paints expressionist works in which women are often portrayed boldly.

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Bill paints in a winter garden in the corner of Te Hopai.

Ross Giblin / Stuff

Bill paints in a winter garden in the corner of Te Hopai.

79-year-old Bill has lived here since 2017 after suffering a major stroke. Jill, 74, visits him almost every day. They were just celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary after being married a week in advance in 1980.

Jill parks Bill – wearing a bib and white polo shirt – in a quiet conservatory with a table set before pulling up a small easel.

She dabs the brushes to break their stiffness before holding the tubes of paint up to her love. Her reflection is weak in his glasses.

Bill paints with his left hand after his right side is paralyzed.

Ross Giblin / Stuff

Bill paints with his left hand after his right side is paralyzed.

“Red?” “Yes.” “Yellow?” “Yes.” “Orange?” “No.” She pushes everyone out according to their instructions.

Before Bill lived here, he made several large paintings once or twice a week. Now he’s painting six or eight little ones. The paper he uses is still the same top of the line Fabriano.

Bill had a stroke after switching drugs for his schizophrenia. Jill says while it was devastating at the time, life is still good.

“Isn’t it, Baalamb?” she asks, calling him by his nickname. “Yes,” he replies with a big grin.

Jill visits Bill every day.

Ross Giblin / Stuff

Jill visits Bill every day.

Bill was afraid that he would not be able to paint because the right side of his body was paralyzed from a stroke. But Jill says he surprised himself because he could use his left hand as well as his right.

Bill takes a fat brush and dips it in a deep blue streak before gently slapping the easel. A face appears, but Bill can’t remember who it is.

Within a minute or two, he sets his brush down. “Is that done?” Asks Jill. Bill says yes. “She is sweet.”

Bill does about six to eight small works a week at Te Hopai.

Ross Giblin / Stuff

Bill does about six to eight small works a week at Te Hopai.

Before rushing to hang it on a rack to dry, Jill dates and signs the work and repeats the process several times. After half a dozen, Jill turns to Bill and says hello. “Hello,” he says back. Bill has limited speech because of his aphasia.

“Do you love me?” she asks, already knowing the answer. “Yes.”

Bill doesn’t want to paint anymore today.

The artist Bill Allan lives in the Te Hopai Home and Hospital and paints again after a stroke with the help of his wife Jill.

Ross Giblin / Stuff

The artist Bill Allan lives in the Te Hopai Home and Hospital and paints again after a stroke with the help of his wife Jill.

  • Bill’s work is on display at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts in Queens Wharf, Wellington.

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