Chest 106; Forest spirit

27 Jun
Chest 106 C

Chest 106; Forest spirit



This image has a kind of Sci-Fi feeling to it – “The blob from outer space”. It just kind’a grew out of a variety of elements, like Topsy. In this work I hoped to explore the notion of chaos within structure, in which the chaotic element itself has a kind of inexorable structure of its own.
We often see cancers on chest X-rays as irregular rounded densities with fine radiating spicules. Occasionally the cancer grows between the normal structures of the organ along lymphatic channels towards the lung root (the hilum) where they invade lymph nodes which enlarge.
This picture contains two X-rays, well hidden; the first from a woman with mastectomy for breast cancer and previous cardiac surgery. The big red blob originated from a purple bird-splat on a window, presumably the bird had previously eaten some coloured fruit. It is connected via multiple fine lines to the smaller blob in the centre of the picture which is where the second X-ray hides. To see it the picture must be greatly magnified. This is from a person with multiple metastatic deposits in the lungs; both are therefore from people with cancers.
I’m not sure as to how successful I have been, however there is clearly a feeling of unease in the contrasting choice of colour and the erratic, rather diffuse mass bumbling through the trees, the broken areas of dark and light playing against each other. By rights the reds should contrast with green, and the blues with yellow. In this image there is very little complementary colouring and I think this causes further disjunction.



Chest 105; Spirit child

20 Jun

Chest 105 C


This X-ray comes from a baby that was born and died very soon after with congenital malformations. I am trying to evoke Ben Okri’s novel The Famished Road about spirit children – those children that are born in Africa and live only a short time – children that are actually spirits. The book follows a spirit child who is being constantly harassed by his fellow spirits in another world to return to play with them.

The X-ray figure itself is white and bland against a rich textural backdrop. It incorporates figures just visible in the background – when involved in a life-changing experience like a serious illness one is often aware of the “real” world progressing just the other side of the wall walking around, talking, fighting, and eating, completely oblivious to the momentous events on this side. One hospital I worked in had televisions mounted at intervals along the walls in the wards. I often felt it was incongruous trying to save a patient’s life in a cardiac arrest resuscitation with some grinning television personality beaming down from above full of geniality and bonhomie.

Chest 104; Anime X-ray

13 Jun



This image is based on an anime drawing, unfortunately I can’t acknowledge the artist because it was taken from a piece of printed cloth, the original picture is below, if anyone recognises the artist please let me know.

The whole idea of including a chest X-ray in my images adds a discipline that becomes a challenge – how to do it in a relevant way whilst at the same time making it coherent within the picture.
My picture includes a tangle of roots which remind me of the hyphae of fungi. This was teamed with the X-ray which was from a man with a fungal infection of the chest (aspergillosis). The variety most commonly occurring in human pulmonary disease is aspergillus fumigatus. A different variety aspergillus oryzae is known as Koji ( 麹菌 )in Japanese. This organism is used to brew sake and miso. It is this relationship that brings me back to the anime. The whole image is quite dark both in colour and sense.
We have a new building on our university campus and I was asked to submit prints of my digital art for consideration to be displayed in the medical corridors. I am of course delighted. Yesterday morning they had laid out eleven of my A1 size prints, on a large conference table. Going through them with the organisers and showing them how the X-ray integrates into the picture, surprised me to see them separately and together. It’s pleasing to report that they want several of the pictures. I now have to find ways to frame them without spending hundreds of dollars thus making them too expensive (universities seem to be chronically short of cash).


Self Portrait 13; LSD? Or not.

1 Jun


Although I was a child of the ‘60s (which they say that if you can remember, you weren’t there) I never got the chance to use LSD – looking back, would I if the chance had arisen? Now I just don’t know.

Here is a picture that just went with the flow. It was stimulated by a fellow blogger, Joseph P Kanski (

What turned out is something very close to classic descriptions of an LSD trip: Change in sensory perception that is highly variable, subtle or profound, beginning some half an hour after ingesting the drug. Although there are changes in thinking (cognitive shifts) the main effects are on vision and sound perception. These are seen in my picture with moving geometric patterns, size and shape changes, intensely enhanced colours, sparkling, and altered textures. Many of these can be simulated by applying pressure to your eye – a phenomenon called phosphenes the sensation of seeing light without light actually entering the eye. Interestingly it is also found in people who have been left in darkness for a long time, known as the “prisoner’s cinema”. Other effects include synaesthesias which could be quite distressing.

At least, this picture is how I think a trip on Lysergic acid diethylamide would feel. No doubt those who have used it will put me right. So I feel the picture is a retrospective to the early 1970s.

The chest X-ray was hidden in the top right hand corner and added another dimension to that area. 

Self Portrait 12; Vision

30 May





Sorting through forgotten back files I came across this, I can only just remember doing it but since there were no notes at the time, my thoughts when I made it remain a mystery.

Perhaps, looking at the general stygian appearance of the picture, that is as it should be. My lovely wife, ever disrespectful, (and that, perhaps is also as it should be) said that I’ve given myself a tall hairstyle that looks like Marge Simpson – I like to think it looks more like Elvis, but there you are all is in the eye of the beholder.

The mountainous shapes in the foreground are taken from large granite boulders on the rocky shore of Magnetic Island; the picture was cut back and drawn out to resemble a Japanese wood-block print.

The face in the portrait is rather blackened like a coal miner. Both my family, and my wife’s, come from mining stock originally; copper-mining and coal-mining respectively. Derbyshire coal-mines were often small, cramped, and dangerous. Many miners were tattooed by falling lumps of coal that cut and marked their face, hands and shoulders. I was fortunate never to have to go down the pit to work, though I visited my father underground in the copper mine in Zambia on more than one occasion. The copper mines were much larger airy places, but just as dangerous and from time to time falling rocks would kill miners, and a mud-rush in 1970 killed 89 miners.

The chest X-ray in the background was from a miner with early pneumoconiosis – a disease that was rife amongst people who were forced to spend many years below ground in unsafe conditions breathing silicon-laden air causing fibrosis of the lungs leading to emphysema. Of course smoking was common at that time, and the combination with fibrotic lungs contributed to a high rate of lung cancer in that group of the population.

I have called it Vision because the face with red eyes emerging from the darkness, into the light appears to be seeing life anew – perhaps seeing into the future.

Senses 5; Taste

2 May


The Senses 5; Taste


The sense of taste is such a difficult thing to define that composing and making this image has been very difficult. It has been through about ten iterations, all were rejected, and still what has been achieved is not really to my satisfaction, perhaps I’ll return to this after a while.

Taste is the discernment of food sensed on the tongue; the perception is very heavily overlaid by the sense of smell. The sensations of different tastes are allocated to various areas on the tongue – an experiment we did as medical students was to find and describe those loci; bitterness, right at the back of the tongue, sweetness, right at the front, sourness and salt on the sides of the tongue. Since those days another taste – called umami has been described (Japanese, umai “delicious” mi “taste”). This can be recognised asthat mild aftertaste of savoury especially after eating meat. There is still controversy over whether it is a basic taste – or not.

Quite apart from the influence of smell on the taste of food is the effect of temperature, and especially texture on perception is important. The bubbliness of a carbonated drink for example changes the experience. This is sensed through specialised nerve endings on the tongue and palate.

In this picture I have fused images in my environment in an attempt to indicate a variety of taste sensations. Salt sea is overlain by a field of sugar-cane, and the horizontal lines of the waves compete with vertical curves of the grassy sugar- cane in an exciting way. I’d intended to layer it with aloes to provide bitterness, but in the end the radiating lines from the shadow of a bitter aloe help to focus the eye into the right lower third where a stream of bubbles rises within the outline of a champagne glass. I chose the rather old-fashioned champagne coupe rather than the modern fluted glass. Legend has it that the coupe glass was moulded from Marie Antoinette’s left breast.

Finally the chest X-ray is from a man with severe long-standing bronchiectasis – a condition that causes dilation of the air-passages of the lung which become filled with infected mucus. These unfortunate people classically have foul smelling breath and live with an awful taste in their mouths. Behind the beauty and excitement of the champagne lurks the darker side of this grave disease

The Senses No 4; Smell

9 Apr



The Senses No 4; Smell


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.


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