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.

8 Responses to “The Senses No 4; Smell”

  1. Playamart - Zeebra Designs April 9, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

    as always, this is so interesting and unique!

    you’re right about certain items making an imprint on the olfactory system… we’re suddenly whisked away by the trigger of an aroma.

    it’s past midnight here, so – viola – the pages are opening and the comments – i hope – will go through!



    • Xraypics April 9, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

      Thankyou once again. Your positive comments keep me going! Tony

  2. leecleland April 9, 2014 at 6:13 pm #

    Informative and evocative. I picked the smoke (who wouldn’t) but not the lemon slice. A very difficult sense to try to illustrate, you’ve done extremely well.

    • Xraypics April 9, 2014 at 6:41 pm #

      Thanks Lee, quite a lot of thought went into that one, but surprisingly few layers – as you know I like to pile them on, but this one, no. Tony

  3. Anita C. Miller April 10, 2014 at 12:48 pm #

    Really a gorgeous image, Tony. I didn’t see the lemon slice at first– I love the smoke wisps! I love the bright colors and the story that goes with this… wonderful as always. Anita

    • Xraypics April 10, 2014 at 9:34 pm #

      Thanks Anita, Sometimes they work, and sometimes, as in any art… I’m so encouraged that you like it. Tony

  4. burgessart April 13, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

    Hi Tony….. you certainly set yourself a real challenge here and yet succeeded most nobly. Well done. Our own experiences definitely are where we gather our most powerful expression. Found this interesting article which you might enjoy on this subject ………

    • Xraypics April 13, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

      I loved that reference, thanks for that. I particularly like the idea of Smell Chess – What a gas! (as my Dublin friends say) pardon the pun.. Tony

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: