Chest 111; Golden holes

12 Dec
Chest 111 C

Chest 111; Golden holes

Not long ago I saw a dreadful case of staphylococcal pneumonia in which a child’s lungs were very badly damaged, many cavities in the lung tissue occurred as abscesses formed. This was a so called “super-bug” – a “golden staph” called that because of its colour on a laboratory culture plate. Generally this is a harmless commensal that lives on our skin but can cause boils and wound infections. The multiresistant form tends to originate in hospitals where it has developed antibiotic resistance and mainly spreads through patient contact. Lung infection is commonest in young children and debilitated people, it starts as a short fever and goes on to severe breathing problems. Our case needed intensive care for a long time.

Stimulated by this for my picture I went to the X-ray archives and found a museum case with similar appearance as a basis. The ideas and connection with my layers was simple, taking the idea of holes in the lung tissue. The pictures were torn to pieces electronically, superimposed one on the other, and then inserted the X-ray using edge enhancement and the “find edges” tool. I used two photos of our back paddock with the golden colour of the grass contrasting with the blues of the sky above. I intended originally to give the impression of a watercolour painting but loved the granularity this technique produces. The golden colour and the tough, gritty, coarse texture is very like colonies of staphylococcal bacteria growing on a plate.

Grim Reaper series No 3; Carnevale

28 Nov
Reaper 3 C

Grim Reaper series 3; Carnevale

In this image I wanted to explore the link between the Latin carne = meat and vale = farewell as carnevale or carnival. It means letting go of the flesh, your former self. This etymology is, disputed, however I like it. There are a lot of psychological theories about the institution of carnival, its value to produce an effect by focussing attention on conflict through senseless acts. Challenging the powerful through the medium of sex, gluttony and defaecation. Carnival may be fun, but whatever the psychology behind it has a deeply creepy side, hence the whole “Carnival of Death” genre which features masks, clowns, skeletons, aberrant behaviour, and bright abandonment of colour and harmony. Some carnival celebrations involve throwing around large quantities of talc powder.

The index chest X-ray is one from a male patient who suffered with a chronic pneumothorax for years. In order to seal the air leak, and to make the lung re-expand, surgeons performed a pleurodesis, in which a chemical irritant (in this case talcum powder) is introduced into the pleura. The resulting inflammation causes the pleural surfaces to stick together. The talc, and the resulting calcification, are clearly visible on a chest X-ray.

The layers in this image are made up entirely of colour (a reflection in the paint of a blue motorcar, the undulating red and yellow marks of a paving stone, and my own spray painted patches) superimposed on the skull bones and X-ray.

Grim Reaper series No 5; Pneumonia

27 Nov
Reaper 5 C

Reaper Series 5; Pneumonia

This is a subject I have dealt with before; Pneumonia. The clinical condition comes on like flu with soaring fever, body ache, persistent cough, and if left untreated, or treated too late can kill swiftly. Although this affects young people, it is the very young or old, or people with immune deficiency due to other diseases such as diabetes who can’t fight the infection and are most at risk. Together with influenza this is the sixth leading cause of death.
The index X-ray in this image is from a man with pneumonia in intensive care.Also included as a layer is the clinical note from the referring doctor, a drawing of the clinical findings – the doctor’s own artwork reflected back to us.
Infection of the lung causes the air sacs to fill up with pus and fluid so oxygen cannot be absorbed and can’t reach the body cells which function poorly. In advanced cases the bacteria spread to other organs such as the kidneys causing failure. If treatment is too late there is insufficient time to reverse these changes and the person will succumb.
Pneumonia was once known as ”the handmaiden of death” but also as “the old man’s friend”.
In this artwork I have departed somewhat from the usual flamboyant use of colour and restricted myself to a palette of browns and pinks. The image reminds me of a polished wooden surface (a coffin?) and thus takes a sombre tone.

Chest 108; Heart to heart

14 Nov
Chest 108 heart in heart C

Chest 108, Heart to heart

One of the interns I have worked with knows of my interest in art and the way I use a chest X-ray as a signature within my images. She kindly sent me a copy of an X-ray that she encountered. It was done to investigate a young child thought to have swallowed a foreign body such as a watch battery. The X-ray that came through didn’t show a battery, but a metallic heart-shaped object in the middle of the chest – a heart overlying the heart. At first it was thought to be something the child had swallowed, now stuck in the oesophagus. The object turned out to be a charm on her necklace that the radiographer had failed to remove before doing the exposure.

I have twinned the X-ray image with a skein of coloured silks from a market in India and the inner reflections of a large coloured glass bowl. The charm was then segmented and floated above the rest of the picture to represent the focus on it, in view of the potential problem it may have caused if it had been swallowed.

This is a rather sentimental picture but that’s all good.

Grim Reaper series No 4; Time

12 Nov

I have been away exploring North India for a while and returned full of images that stuff my much belaboured brain. Much time is taken up at present in construction of the Punch and Judy project which is nearing completion of the construction but  requires a lot of learning lines and puppetry techniques. Sooner or later I shall have to post a video, meanwhile, here is my latest image from the Death series.

This image explores the time of transition, the movement from life into death; a process feared by many. Awareness of the fact that our time on earth will be short is forced upon the mind when becoming aware of impending death. In this situation it is essential to plan, to think ahead, in order to fashion the best life possible out of time remaining.
The index X-ray in this picture was from a lady with a large collection of fluid in her right pleural space (the space around the lung inside the thorax) caused by advanced mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is usually due to exposure with asbestos dust. This lady did not respond to treatment and the underlying lung collapsed. There was also invasion into the lung, ribs, the right chest wall, and breast. The prognosis for a new diagnosis of mesothelioma is typically about 18 months though cases can live longer, but advanced cases such as this have a much shorter life expectancy.
Component parts of the image include a human skull decorated in a primitive society which matches the theme of death in this series. The strong patterns including the spiral on the right arise from a brass plaque in an Indian temple to the worship of Kali the originator and devourer of all things. In the end it is time (Sanskrit; Kala काल) that both originates and devours all things.

Chest 111 Time

Chest 111; Time

Grim Reaper series 2; The empty mind

30 Sep
Reaper 2 C

Grim Reaper Series 2; The empty mind

One thing is for certain, there is escape neither from death nor taxes. We are all equal with regards to those things. Unlike taxation, nobody is an expert on death. Doctors and philosophers, holy men and profane have studied the process in detail, but not one of them has the edge on any of us; we are all equal when considering death. And all our thinking on death begins and ends from a position of ignorance.

We know one thing; it occurs to all living things, after that we can only guess; is it real, or is it not? If it is real then the end of life as we know it is simply a termination, a blank wall beyond which we cannot pass. If it is not, then it is a door to a life other than that we now know. We sometimes comment after a death that a person no longer suffers, as though something of the person remains to suffer.

The best we can do is to use allegorical language; death is a wall, a door, according to our belief, and speculate whether there may, or may not be a “next life”.

Pneumonia is the single largest cause of death in children worldwide. Every year, it kills an estimated 1.1 million children, accounting for 18% of all deaths of children under five years old worldwide. Pneumonia affects children and families everywhere and is no respecter of class or creed.

The X-ray in this picture comes from a child with a severe chlamydia infection. This is an organism that is ubiquitous. It must enter a cell in order to reproduce using the cells resources, which it then destroys. It was difficult to detect and was initially thought to be due to a virus. It causes pneumonia in people irrespective of their immune status. The condition is usually mild but can, however, be severe and cause the death of the infected person.

I have backed the X-ray with stone and sky, mainly for their colour and pattern combinations, but also to reflect two of the five elements Hindus look towards; earth, air, fire, water, and sky, one more than usually quoted in the West.

The central theme of this image is disintegration of the body after death.

Grim Reaper 1; Gold in the fire

29 Sep
Reaper 1 C

Grim Reaper 1; Gold in the fire

I have been visiting amultiple temples, churches and holy sites during the last six weeks. The common theme running through all is the focus on death. Some of these sites concentrate on the life lead before death. The Karma Sutra temples of Kujaraho seeming to draw as much from life before death, the Buddhist temples striving towards a better life and towards annihilation in death, the Hindu concentration on the place of death, how ashes are disposed of. Cathedrals celebrating death in its many forms, the wealthy prominently displayed. The ossuary with thousands upon thousands of human bones displayed for inspection of the curious.


Ossuary at Kutha Hora, Czech Republic

During my career I have been privileged to usher out of this life many individuals, and at the same time have been present at the birth of others. I do not however intend to embark on a philosophical contemplation of death, except that it comes to us all and it probably isn’t a bad idea to be prepared for it.

I have decided to create a series of pictures which I shall call the Grim Reaper Series in which I shall try and explore the subject and hopefully find a little humour in it. I worked in a chest hospital for a year or two. One evening an elderly emphysematous gentleman had gone into respiratory failure from which there was no chance of rescue. He lay in a seeming coma for about 24 hours, his breathing gradually getting shallower and shallower until it was almost impossible to know if he were alive or not. A young nurse monitoring his signs bent down with her cheek close to his face trying to detect a breath. He opened his eyes and said “Boo!” She came rushing into the staff room all of a fluster – “That Mr Jones!!!” And he passed away a few hours later.

This picture is made up of several layers including the texture of ragged gold leaf applied to a brick wall, candles in a church representing mankind as a flickering flame that is soon extinguished. In the background of my picture several skulls taken from one of the ossuaries can be seen. I intend to use these along with the chest X-ray in this series as a motif.

The chest X-ray was taken from a 17 year old man with a lymphoma of the lung that finally caused his death. This condition is now treatable. The original image came from hospital museum files was dated before Hodgkins disease could be treated with any consistent success.


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