This has been most difficult to try and depict visually. I did so by exploring my own experiences which is the best way for an artist to express himself.
The picture base is a slice of lemon – a scent evocative of times as a child sitting in an old lemon tree hiding from my siblings, trying not to get lacerated by thorns. From the centre comes a wisp of smoke carrying its own memories – smoke of a camp-fire, the smell my grandmother’s wood-burning kitchen stove, the faint smoky aroma of our nanny who cooked her food over an open fire.
The olfactory, and limbic system (responsible for storage of memory), are anatomically closely associated in the front of the brain (which happens to be where the nose is). A particular smell with associations can induce activity in adjacent nerves, thus resurrect memories long dormant. One autumn morning near Oxford, UK, cycling alongside a wheat-field burned yesterday by the farmer, the pungent bread-like scent of dew on the black stubble was so powerful and the emotional response so unexpected that it nearly knocked me off my bicycle. I immediately flashed back over twenty years. Those were significant times; cool early mornings in Central Africa after a bush-fire with a sense of relief that our house had not been caught overnight by the burning grass, and the heady smell of first rain in November, come at last after long months of drought, falling on the burned ground.
Those were smells with positive associations but the opposite can also happen. The smoky wisp in this image arises from the centre of a Chest X-ray – a man with cancer of the lung from years of tobacco smoking. It evokes that sour smell of a habitual smoker, the yellowed fingernails, caustic breath.
They say that links between aromas and memories begin even before we are born. Aromas such as garlic that upset many babies can be comforting to infants exposed ante-natally.