Illness affects us all at one time or another. It hardens life’s path, and dependent on the nature of the illness, can alter it completely. The recipient is corroded in some way, in a way that is not always visible or understood. A level of deterioration occurs until something shows. Manifesting itself outwardly until we either improve, with or without treatment, or we don’t.
These works explore, in an expressive way, this unwanted bodily attack and its emotional response. The paint and charcoal distorting anatomy, layering a figure suggestive of this struggle. A figure built on this experience of transitory or lasting damage. The heads and bodies have become that journey. The artwork’s features shaped by mistakes and intention; injured and placated, thrust forward upon the wrinkled, scarred skin of paper or canvas. Celebrating these afflictions and flaws with colour and gesture. For in the atrocity that life can sometimes take, or in the blinkeredness of day-to-day toil, there also resides great beauty. There lies endurance, compassion, and the universal delicateness of our touching impermanence. It is this state that heightens our sense of what is significant in life.
Pharmacist is a battered relic to the mixed characters of no fixed abode encountered during my years as a paramedic. Fascinating personalities, embodied by a mind-numbing endurance to their environment. This is a testament to their humour, anger, sorrow, deceit, malevolence, persistence, and exasperation. The cause of their predicament often only a run of bad luck, or one disastrous event. Then a spiral downward.
Pharmacist is depicted with two crows, perched, as a reminder of the ever constant and very real threat of illness and death. The singular magpie is for sorrow. The use of birds has a long history in art. Often as a symbol of mortality, or the transcending spirit, from the pheasant in Crivelli’s - The Annunciation, to the goldfinch in Hogath’s - The Graham Children. The crow sits on the Pharmacists head amongst pills, as if the pills are laid eggs. Medication, that prolongs life, assists ailments and on occasion destroys. From the crammed blister packs of timed medication to addictive analgesia and a tool to overdose. The Saint Sebastian type needles represent the illicit drug use that may have caused the downturn in circumstance, or the numbing recourse from a desperate situation – now worsened by addictive grip. The bandaged cellulitic legs a result from persistently injecting into the groin area. The Pharmacist holds a vomit bowl, a begging bowl, containing medication. Holding a preservative, a currency, a receptacle for bodily fluid. The pharmacist sits on a sleeping bag and a slither of cardboard, scant and ineffective protection from a hostile environment. A nest of golden eggs at their feet, like a fable. A fable unsure what it is cautioning against, if at all – maybe greed, false promises, not realising what you have, hope, illness, medicine or nothing - a fake nest with wooden eggs sprayed gold, the necessary artifice of art.
The pharmacist cuts an odd figure. At once comical, desperate, sinister, and vulnerable. Time is stuck in their eye.
Fruit flies was part of a series of works addressing dementia. The fruit fly is used in the study of dementia as they share a large number of their genes with humans. This fact I found fascinating and it became a starting point. I began to look at other anatomical similarities and found the flies protective scutum and our tiny scutum in Prussak’s space within the middle ear. Scutum (shield) is also a constellation, it’s four brightest stars forming a lopsided diamond shape. Two features of this constellation are the M26 open cluster and the M11 wild duck cluster. These were referenced and intertwined in the drawing to add a distortion of size and incapacity. Suggested causes of dementia seem to be the build up of plaque around the brain cells forming tangles. This drawing has taken on the twisted appearance of neurofibrillary tangles, like a web in which the two figures are interwoven. The figures in the drawing philosophise pointlessly in a ‘Bouvard and Pecuchet’ kind of way. One of the figures is sat ‘lost’ on the toilet, staring at their phone or hand. Whilst the other crouches frog like - as if in imitation of the neighbouring fly’s legs, maybe ready to eat it with a flick of a hidden distended tongue. It’s a slightly strange neurological forest-like drawing, that makes no attempt at answers or documentation, but hangs awkwardly, like the figures it contains – bemused and occupied.
Three figures at the bus stop. Making their own way to or from varying out-patient appointments. The mother with child, an asthmatic, the chronic arthritic. This work addresses what we don’t know about the person passing by. Expressions of a situation that may be visible or not. We are unaware of what’s going on in someone’s head, as they amble quietly past. A pregnant bump that conceals more than we assume. Or the stoic faced asthmatic mildly wheezing themselves onto the bus on way to hear a yet unknown cancer diagnosis. As others wait impatiently behind or assist them gently to a seat. Bus stop represents three people, we may have passed by and ignored, remembered later on that day for some reason, or interacted with briefly – never to meet again.
downhill head studies
Four head studies in health deterioration. Considering the gradual loss of self when suffering from dementia. The loss of recognition, the speech repetition, and as things worsen the inability to undertake simple tasks. The anguish and sadness as this happens, for the self and for relatives. These drawings are sequential, as the individual slowly dissolves until a linear unlikeness remains. These works were influenced by William Utermohlen’s self-portraits as he documented his decline with dementia, and by Gericault’s portraits of the insane.