Feet – an exercise

19 Nov

As part of a development exercise I have been challenged to produce a picture of my feet.

Feet 3 J

Feet 3

These are my feet. I rather like that I can see my face in the left foot.

Feet 1 J

Feet 1

This version gives the impression of being underwater in a rather dirty pond.

Feet 4 J

Feet 4

I liked the warmth and focus of this version. It reminds me a little of the famous hands in the Sistine Chapel, though it looks nothing like.

Feet 5 J

Feet 5

The final picture incorporates my signature Chest X-ray and gives the whole composition a different feeling.

I know which one is my favourite, but would value the opinions of anyone who might read this. Please, critical comments are welcomed.




Chest 127; Asterixis

19 Nov
Chest 127  C

Chest 127; Asterixis

I have been thinking about lung function just recently because of a chest infection picked up on an airline flight. It started as ‘flu but soon went to my bronchi causing bronchitis. It has surprised me how much my exercise tolerance has been reduced, and I’m still hoping for a quick recovery. Today’s artwork arises out of these thoughts.

Asterixis, (meaning unable to keep still) is a medical term for flapping of the hands seen in metabolic diseases affecting the brain – encephalopathy – it is commonly seen in liver failure due to cirrhosis but can be due to respiratory failure.

The sight of a man – it was usually a man – lying in bed with hands flapping like little wings, gasping for breath, was one of the more disturbing sights I encountered as medical registrar in a respiratory unit. Chronic obstructive airways disease or emphysema; strongly associated with smoking tobacco, with congenital abnormalities of lung, and lung metabolism causes progressive damage to lung tissue with loss of ability to exchange Oxygen (O2) for Carbon Dioxide (CO2).

Slow loss of lung function means increasing breathlessness until the person comes to a point where the balance of O2 input to CO2 output is marginal. It only requires a small infection to knock them over into negative balance; they absorb only just enough O2 to survive and they cannot easily eliminate CO2.

After exercise anyone will be familiar with the sensation of increased drive to breathe more quickly. This reflex is largely due to rapid rise in CO2 in the blood that stimulates the brain to increase the breathing rate (it’s also due to other things, but I’m trying to keep this simple). But when that CO2 rise is gradual over years due to progressive lung damage the response is blunted. That means low oxygen levels become the main driver to control breathing rates. If Oxygen treatment is given to such a person, increased O2 in the brain takes away the stimulus to breathe, respiration slows, CO2 is not exhaled, allowing more to accumulate in the body. Eventually enough CO2 mounts up to cause brain toxicity. Hence asterixis – the brain toxicity of too much carbon dioxide.

This is a paradox. Of course if someone is desperately short of breath it is natural to give them Oxygen. BUT NOT in this situation because it can kill them.

There was one small comfort. A man would come to our ward in extremis, apparently massively distressed, in anguish, gasping for air. After treatment and before discharge I would ask what he could remember of his admission. The event and the suffering had always been wiped from his mind. That is one small blessing.

The X-ray in this image shows a man with chronic emphysema. A child can be seen running through the picture chasing her breath.




Chest 126; Meditation on The Cough by Counihan

7 Nov
Chest 126 C

Chest 126; A meditation on The Cough by Counihan

Noel Counihan (1913 – 1986) was one of Australia’s important artists, a social realist, political commentator, and a man with a deep understanding of social hardship in his time. His life is well documented, and the story of his address to the crowds from within a locked cage whilst the police had to cut him out is well known. I only want to talk about his artistic achievement with regard to The Cough… Stone Dust, (1947 © Estate of Noel Counihan). He illustrated the ordinary people, the workers, the downtrodden and unemployed in Australian society in the 1940s and 1950s, and no image is more heart searing than this lino-cut which depicts a miner with silicosis (pneumoconiosis) exhausted from coughing. This picture is used as the logo of The Silicosis Project, a major inter-disciplinary European research project in its struggle against silicosis http://www.sciencespo.fr/silicosis/ . It is a new research project combining history, medicine, and social sciences. This project deals with one of the deadliest occupational diseases in history; silicosis, caused by inhalation of crystalline silica dust particles. The occupational disease is mainly due to mining in silica bearing rock, but also associated with other dusty occupations such as pottery.

I was brought up through the 1950s and 1960s on a copper mine in Zambia where silicosis was an important part of the average underground worker’s life. Regular X-rays and medical examinations by the Pneumoconiosis Board theoretically meant that a worker could lose his job if the disease was discovered. Looking back, with hindsight, it is obvious that the board was used to keep workers working as long as possible despite development of the disease. Compensation at the time was a pittance, and this was particularly true for black workers.

I have been moved by Counihan’s linocut which shows a miner wracked with cough, exactly as I saw men in our small town suffering, trying to catch their breath with the inflammatory, fibrotic lung disease.

The Counihan Estate has kindly granted permission to use the outline of this image in my work. I have subtracted all but the outlines from the original image and superimposed a formalised bourgeoise pattern typically seen in carpets of the middle classes in the 1940s and 1950s in order to draw a distinct contrast with the jagged outline of the working class miner depicted in cyanotic blue. I have further drawn roughly into the image to emphasise this. The Chest X-ray of a miner with pneumoconiosis is superimposed on the chest focussing on the lungs to provide the only bright colour in the image.

This picture will be published on my blog. I shall keep a copy for myself, but the picture is not for sale.

Chest 125; Regression

21 Oct
Chest 125; Regression

Chest 125; Regression

The chest X-ray in this picture was from a small child with a rare condition known as caudal regression syndrome. This is a congenital disorder that affects children slightly differently but essentially the tailbone and/or part of the spine does not develop. There is almost always some neurological problem, the bladder and bowel functions often do not work, or the legs are affected, and it is sometimes associated with abnormalities of the heart, kidneys and gut. The children are almost always agile and cognitively normal.

When a parent discovers their new child has this condition it is often devastating. But the children I have met have been wheelchair bound with great personalities, sparky and lively, bright as a button, and very keen to get involved in sport and take part in other activities.

This is not a condition to be feared. As a 14 year old girl who has grown up with this condition says “I want to tell you it is not such a bad path, and will be for you, and your family, whatever you make of it. I chose to make it positive road. I’m not saying there aren’t any challenges, there are, but they don’t have to defeat you or define you.”

Having had so many slightly sombre pictures with muted colours recently, I have tried to make this picture full of joy and hope. It contains a picture of glistening glass and joyful street-art.

Chest 124; Displacement

2 Oct
Chest 124 C

Chest 124; Displacement

It has been a while since I last was able to produce any images for this blog. My time has been taken up making an animated video for a local festival – Light on the Fringe. That has been shown a few times both during the festival, and at events afterwards.  I have also been involved in making two new lectures, one on indications for radiological investigations for Physiotherapists, and the other about my digital artworks, to be given next week for doctors at our local hospital. It was also a time of importance to me – my first solo exhibition at the Umbrella Gallery. This is a publically funded gallery set up to encourage emerging artists like myself. At the same time my son has asked me to make him a dining table! This is a long-term project. I’m using recycled hardwood from an old work-bench (with rusty nail holes and saw-cuts to be included) and am setting four beautifully figured sand-stone slabs into the top. All these projects require acquisition of new skills, whether in animation techniques, or in learning how to polish stone. So, my life in so-called retirement has been busy.

This dark image comes in mid-2015 at a time of crisis in the Middle East when millions of refugees have taken to the road. Over 5 million Syrian refugees registered with UNRWA. Syrians are migrating into Europe fleeing the war. Australia has offered to take a small number.

Other countries such as Sweden and Germany have opened their gates whilst others like Hungary have slammed them shut. This is ironic when Hungary who had so many refugees migrate to other countries in their time of need is turning its back. The Gulf State countries are ignoring the problem. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Oman, and Kuwait are by far the richest nations in the region because of the gargantuan oil reserves they reside on. Yet they have not taken any refugees. Israel has refused to take a single refugee. The crisis has also emboldened racists to be open with their anti-Arab bigotry. German neo-Nazis have attacked refugees and shelters created for asylum-seekers. It is possible to draw historical parallels to both Europe and the US treatment of Jewish refugees before and during the Holocaust.

I attempted to produce an image showing how people are being torn apart by the terrible situation in which they find themselves. The original X-ray came from a young Ethiopian man, a refugee, accepted into Australia years before, who presented with lobar pneumonia. This is a condition caused by a bacterium, strep pneumonia, and can be quickly lethal.

The X-ray has been repeatedly copied and overlaid to impart depth and solidity to the central figure, it shows movement not from the frying pan into the fire rather from heat into the cold symbolising the way so many people seeking help have been turned back, shut out.

Even without the back story I find the fragmented solidity of this image personally disturbing.

Self Portrait 14; Recollection

3 Sep
Self-portrait 14 C

Self-portrait 14; Recollection

A nostalgic moment for me, the X-ray image came from a Zimbabwean man with Bantu haemo-siderosis. This is a condition in which a person ingests large quantities of iron. The excess dietary iron is deposited first in the skin giving the person a tanned colour. My patient complained that he had to stop drinking beer because his skin was getting too dark.

Bantu siderosis is caused by consuming large quantities of home-brewed beer made in ungalvanised steel barrels. The iron in the barrel oxidises and dissolves in the beer. The condition leads to liver cirrhosis, cancer of the liver, heart disease and diabetes. The condition was originally blamed entirely on beer brewed in rusty barrels, however genetics also plays a role in this disorder because it can also occur in non-beer drinkers, and of those that do, only some are affected. A genetic marker increases the risk of iron overload when excess iron is consumed.

Introduction of commercially brewed beer to rural areas in Zimbabwe in the 1960s dramatically reduced the incidence of the condition. It became illegal to brew beer at home.

However the law of unintended consequences came into play. In the villages people would brew beer as a communal event, often for the weekend, using maize meal, sorghum, and sometimes currants and raisins or marula fruit, and yeast. It was an important source of B group of Vitamins. The beer was consumed at home, and helped to bond families and the community.  It played an important part in family ritual, healing ceremonies, and some would always be reserved for the spirits. Menfolk stayed close to home, money stayed in the group. After the beer was consumed any the highly nutritious sludge at the bottom of the barrel was given to the children to supplement their diet.

After introduction of commercial beer, the males would go out to the beer-halls, drink away from home. Money was lost to the community, there was a problem with public drunkenness, family dynamics were irretrievably altered, and an important source of nutrition for children in poor communities was lost.

One wonders whether the government would have done better to sell stainless steel or even plastic containers cheaply for the purpose than to ban home brewing, and one suspects commercial considerations had a hand in the decision.

In this self-portrait, along with the X-ray I have included an African sunset (Mana Pools on the Zambezi).

Phoenix – for Light on the Fringe

8 Aug

This video has occupied most of my spare waking hours for a couple of months now and It can finally be presented for you to see. Hopefully you will like it.

It is part of a co-operation between eight artists for a fringe festival called Light on the Fringe associated with a North Queensland Art festival in Townsville.

I have always loved the story and symbolism of the Phoenix who dies and rises again from the ashes. I also have a fascination for colour and movement. Perhaps both are fulfilled here.

The dancer is my eight year old grandaughter. She was just given a beat and asked to just dance – and this is her spontaneous movement.

The feather is taken from a single photograph and animated as it appears to fall through the sky. The idea for the painting of the feather at the beginning and end comes from an artist who wets the paper with water and then allows ink to flow into it, I did about fifty paintings until I got one right!

The animations were done in Adobe Premiere which is a new program for me, and the bird flying away was rotoscoped using Adobe Flash.

Scenes of the bushfire were taken during a burning off – fuel reduction – exercise not far from my home in July 2015.


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