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.

Chest 110; Ganges dawn

5 Sep

Chest 110 C ganges dawn

Chest 110; Ganges dawn


Varanasi is one of the great holy sites of Hindu religion and the conjoint site of two rivers, the Varana, and the Asi between which the city lies, on the bank of the Ganges, or Ganga. I have combined successive images of sunrise as well as the swastika (Sanskrit su = good, vasti = being, meaning well-being) symbol of the Lord Shiva who, according to legend founded the city. The image also contains the textural residue of a chest X-ray of an Indian lady with miliary tuberculosis. At every level in this amazing and crowded city is the human factor; the outline of two boys sitting in a boat can be seen on the left. One cannot help but be impressed by the devotion of the pilgrims that flock to wash in the Ganges in the morning, and during the day.

Our senses were assaulted when we walked through the back streets, temples painted bright red, or with towers plated in solid gold, and through narrow lanes splattered with cow dung and reeking of litter. Stalls selling silks, shawls of every hue and texture. The colours and shapes come tumbling out in this image.



Mr Punch makes an appearance

23 Aug

P&J together

Mr Punch and Judy begin a marital dispute

What is there to say about Mr Punch? He is Everyman, his life is a short, but disingenuous full of sound and fury, signifying… well, that’s where the discussion starts.

Punch 3

Mr Punch takes a bow

Mr Punch commits the most heinous of acts and gets away with them. He throws the baby out the window, whacks his wife with a big stick, kills off the authorities that want to take him to jail, and chases the ghost away. His greatest triumph is to vanquish the devil himself. He does this all with a merry grin, pleased as Punch.

To the superficial his is just a violent little man, to the politically correct he is an anathema, and to the rest of the world he is a Clown. Most of the humourless arguments against him are based on a simplistic interpretation of Mr Punch and simulated violence in the show. Fortunately he has a keen nose for spotting flawed logic and his opinion of those po-faced do-gooders is as low as theirs is of him. Those people who argue that his behaviour promotes violence amongst children would do well to compare with other children’s stories – does Goldilocks promote breaking and entry? Do Tom and Jerry promote cruelty to animals? Shakespeare has Desdemona smothered to death by her husband Othello. Has the world’s greatest playwright been condemned for sparking copycat murders in marriage? Always remember, these are just puppets to retain a sense of perspective; “That’s the way to do it!”

Mr Punch’s character originates deep within the culture of Europe. In the mystery plays of mediaeval times he was Vice – an amoral buffoon who fights with the devil and is carried off to hell. This situation continued until the mid 18th century but later things changed. Mr Punch began to prevail over the devil carting him off in a wheelbarrow to the fiery furnace. This delighted audiences although more proper folk bewailed the situation. The Landlady in Tom Jones (1749) laments “I remember when puppet shows were made of good scripture and when wicked people were carried away by the devil”.

I believe that Mr Punch is an allegory of the sinners path through the world, a kind of Pilgrim’s Progress He conquers the temptations of the flesh in the form of his wife Judy and, when she is included in the show, Pretty Polly his mistress. He goes on to triumph against worldly wealth and position, the Beadle, the hangman, and in the end death and the power of the devil. It’s difficult to believe this was the original intent of the play, however one thing is certain; Mr Punch remains indifferent to castigation and he knows only too well that as long as we – young and old – delight in the sight of authoritative figures getting whacked over the head and seeing the rogue emerge triumphant, he, of the preposterous nose and squawky voice, will never disappear.

Punch hat

The hat brim and hair, small amount of stuffing to keep it upright

Punch hat 2

Side view of the hat with the golden tassel and hair ready to be stuck onto the head



Mr Punch classically wears yellow and red, and a curved witch’s hat that has a tassel hanging from the tip. He also has a hump that is often decorated.

Punch jacket

The jacket complete with buttons about to be applied





Punch pants 1

Trousers, back view before sewing onto the black sleeve

Punch pants 2

Trousers, strips of yellow and red sewn together to make the stripes

I made his coat with a skirt of red and a neck-ruff of yellow. His trousers are striped yellow and red, I used the same cloth cut into strips and sewn together. The clothes were decorated with rick-rack. He was also given a pair of yellow stockings and green elfin curved-tip shoes.

Punch hand 2

One hand in a pointing gesure



The hands match his clothes with yellow and red gloves. They have been difficult to use as they tend to slip off my thumb – in future I intend to make the arms of the black sleeve a little shorter on the thumb side – I found that a little piece of sand-paper stuck into the hand socket prevents it slipping and helps the thing to stay in place. This is important when trying to pick things up.


Punch prep

My work-space whilst building Mr Punch

This is a picture of my workspace as I was building the  puppets. I learned dressmaking techniques very quickly, not a lot of skill though. Perhaps that comes with time.

As of this date the character set is now complete, the whole gang is assembled and we are ready to go, just await the building of a home – The Booth! Watch this space!

Marital counselling for Mr Punch and Judy

Marital counselling for Mr Punch and Judy






Chest 109; Human Realm

22 Aug


Chest 109 C

Chest 109; Human Realm


Buddhist cosmology divides existence into six realms, although earlier texts refer to only five (Gods and demi-gods in one realm) these realms are understood as psychological states of mind.

My picture shows the wheel of life carrying the X-ray of a newborn babys chest, in the centre are five spots symbolising the five realms with the descriptive terms; God & demi-God, Human, Animal, “Hungry ghost”, Hell.

To understand the value of the realms, the most important to us is the fifth, the Human realm, because of choice. The Gods are perfectly happy and so they have no choice, the Hell realm too is perfectly painful, and again no choice. The Human realm is in between, where there is a balance between happiness and pain that is governed to a large extent by choice. When you are not too happy, and not too much in pain what does it mean? – a step closer to normality of the mind. (Dzongsar Khyentse).

The choices we make to establish that normality are our own responsibility, and that is what creates our own human situation. If we get into a mess, we must extract ourselves from it, and the best way to do that is to prevent the cause through our own wisdom. External beings will not bestow grace upon us, nor will they pull our strings differently. We are freed through our own choices through wisdom, and through our own compassion i.e. not only compassion for others, but also for ourselves, to treat ourselves better and this brings the way of treating others with greater compassion.

In this image I have tried to move away from the darkness that has overshadowed many of the last studies and bring about some freedom of the mind through this.

Portrait 1

22 Aug

portrait 1 C

Portrait 1

An intensely personal portrait including the one person in my life that is most important to me. The layers include the beautiful red leaf from a mangrove, with eucalypts silhouetted against the evening sky.

Chest 107; Rocky Road

15 Aug

Chest 107 C

Chest 107; Rocky Road

It has been some time since I was last able to put a picture onto my blog, the time has not, however, been wasted.
I’ve applied for two formal exhibitions in one of the local galleries; the first with a series of about ten images as a formal showing. The second in a confined space (the gallery is an old bank, it’s in the old safe-room) with a few small printed pictures, and a loop video of a picture in the process of development. Along with this I’ve offered a morning workshop in Photoshop introducing techniques I’ve discovered through trial and error over the past couple of years. Now the decision of the gallery committee is awaited.
James Cook University has bought a dozen pictures to hang in the newly built clinic corridors. It was astounding to discover how expensive framing is, particularly at the size (A1) of these prints. Any advice or guidance from fellow artists would be most gratefully received. The pictures have been hung up in one of the erstwhile dingy corridors, the colours in the prints have brightened it up considerably. Most pleasing was the number of comments received from people as they walked along. Gives some credibility to the work.
I’m also in the process of producing a set of hand-puppets for a traditional Punch and Judy show. This is an ambition that I’ve had for many years. The original plan was to purchase puppets, but good ones start at $300 each, to get a full set was prohibitively expensive. I’ve therefore had to make my own – and it is much more fun. See the beginnings of my blog at where some of the technique and pictures of the puppets in progress have been uploaded. After making the heads I politely asked my wife if she would kindly make costumes – but answer came there none! If I had known how fiddly and labour intensive it would be I probably wouldn’t have started, but I didn’t. So, rushing in where fools fear to tread, started work on that. It has been a steep learning curve!
The image I’m loading today is highly fragmented and rather explosive. The base X-ray was brought to the front of the image and given a strong texture. This comes from a woman with a large tumour in the chest – a single one, potentially removable, but nevertheless an explosive situation. The underlying colour is unrelated to the X-ray but comes from a red leaf and the reflections on the side of a blue soft-drink dispenser. Together they help to mix about ten layers. There is a layer of texture provided by a picture of wood-chip mulch, and a layer using the highlights of the mulch to bring out the fragmentation even further. Several layers provide detail upon detail trying to bring the layers forward, and others are there to hide what is behind.


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