Cathedrals, (oil on paper bonded to fibreboard, 98cm x 110cm)
Cathedrals, (oil on paper bonded to fibreboard, 98cm x 110cm)

“Man is what he believes.” ― Anton Chekhov

Cathedral definition: the largest and most important church in the diocese, from Latin cathedra “seat”.

I have a cathedral; it is the seat of my views, my view of the world, and my interpretation of existence. The lesser churches within the diocese can present conflicting viewpoints, the Cathedral endeavours to provide a sense of entity, of oneness from these disparate elements.

I used to think that truths and ideals that form my cathedral were solid definable elements that engage to form a single whole; some contemporary philosophers dispute the existence of the “self”. I can understand that view because knowledge, learning, place, mood, circumstances and relationships, or changes within these deny me definable edges to the various ideals and belief that are my cathedral.

It is the paradox of the certainty and oneness I feel and the uncertainty of the views that form that certainty that was the primary driver in the making of this work.


“Speech is a mirror of the soul: as a man speaks, so is he”.

Speech_is_a_mirror_of_the_soul_02         Speech_is_a_mirror_of_the_soul_03

“Speech is a mirror of the soul: as a man speaks, so is he”.

The title for this piece of work is a quote by Publilius Syrus from approximately 100BC

Language is an integral part of my work this piece is the latest of many which explore different aspects of language.

“While names, words, and language can be, and are, used to inspire us, to motivate us to humane acts, to liberate us, they can also be used to dehumanize human beings and to ‘justify’ their suppression and even their extermination,”(1) Prof. Haig Bosmagiam

This work explores the oppressive nature of language in everyday conversation when we all defend our position of privilege within the societies we inhabit. Without a doubt some would seem to hold a disproportionate amount of privilege but we all enjoy some form of privilege over others, able bodied over the disabled, male over female, educated over uneducated are a few, things are improving but have still a way to go yet.

Language defines humanity, it sets us apart from all others species, some of whom with sound and body language can communicate powerful ideas and emotional feelings but the complexity of thought and knowledge that the human race has been able to harness and utilise through spoken language and the written word is remarkable.

What fascinates and challenges me is the breadth of possibility that language offers for inspiration or suppression as the orator so chooses. I find myself irked regularly at the put downs I come across in daily life, sometimes unintentionally but all too frequently with varying degrees of pleasure from the speaker.


This Festive season I have discovered the poem “Ulysses” [(1), see below] by Alfred Lord Tennyson, an inspiration to the older gentleman like myself when he says:

Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

At the other end of this spectrum is the dehumasing language of war as recorded in Tim O’Brien’s award-winning novel The Things They Carried O’Brien writes, “By slighting death, by acting, we pretended it was not the terrible thing it was… If it isn’t human, it doesn’t matter much if it’s dead. And so a VC nurse fried by napalm, was a crispy critter. A Vietnamese baby, which lay nearby, was a roasted peanut. Just a crunchie munchie.” (2)

I find it hard to comprehend the use of such language, even allowing for the harrowing circumstances that combatants witnessed, lived through and had to deal with. The poet Paul Celan whose parents died in the Holocaust and himself interned in a work-camp from late 1942 till February 1944 in an acceptance speech illuminates the importance of language and the developing influence it continues to impart on us even through the darkest of circumstances;

“Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language. Yes, language. In spite of everything, it remained secure against loss. But it had to go through its own lack of answers, through terrifying silence, through the thousand darknesses of murderous speech. It went through. It gave me no words for what was happening, but went through it. Went through and could resurface, ‘enriched’ by it all.” (3)

Stepping back from the extreme ends of the language spectrum within the web of language and meaning through the spoken word we have to discern what is part of the picture any orator wants to give and see through the way things are parts of any conversation which reveals their soul.

This is one aspect of a complex web of thoughts and ideas expressed through language, there are people who with great humility and compassion seek to help the disadvantaged but the very act of singling people out for help marks them out as different and it is so easy for them to be seen as “lesser” human beings, I do not for a second propose offering no help to anyone disadvantaged in any way but it is important that in doing so we include “others” in society and meet all as equals.

The Work:

I enjoy the fact that you can take a group of unrelated objects and explore a concept or idea. When we see objects we see them as the word that signifies them, we do not see a group of filaments spun by an arachnid between twigs, branches or plant material; we see a “web” and also its metaphoric possibilities and when we put disparate objects together that potential for exploration of ideas and metaphor seems to grow exponentially. What is always nice is that the ideas, language and metaphors explored are always the viewers but some of my own remain within the work for the viewer to enjoy or dismiss as they see fit.

The Objects:

The Letters on the Stone: The letters on the stone come from word endings the ” ISM” on one side comes from e.g. sexism, racism; they are the ideas and there expression in language, the “IST” alludes to the person the sexist, racist amongst others.

The Stone: used in various metaphors, “between a rock and a hard place”, “things being set in stone”, also the physical appearance of metaphorical weight it brings to the piece.

The section of wood which holds the mirror. This is the object which started the entire creation of this piece, found and brought to me because of its unusual appearance, it has lots of small pinnacles or nodes which reminds me of a bed of nails and is the “hard place” in between a rock and a hard place.

The Mirror: hints at whether we are looking at of hearing reality or perhaps a reflection of or distortion of what is alluded to.

The Web: references the complex nature of language and its use,

The Moth: caught on the web hints at the vagaries of language but also the fact that we are trapped in having to use language with its potential for being misconstrued, inaccurate, the potential for lies etc. etc but with the eternal search for “truth” whatever that may be.

The Sand: again its metaphorical properties are what interest me, “shifting sands”, “drifting like sand in the wind” hint at the fluid nature of language in the way that the same words can mean different things depending on how they are spoken, the difference between what is said and what is understood.

The platform and rig: Language is human construct through which we see and create the world the platform and rig and the entire piece is a result of human construction and references this.

Concluding Statement: if you got this far, thank you for your perseverance and I hope the work gave you food for though, enjoy “Ulysses.” I now go to “sail beyond the sunset,” keep a generous spirit and have a great 2016.


(2) Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson. (1809-1892)

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.


(4) from “Speech on the occasion of receiving the Literature Prize of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen”, P.34 in Celan’s Collected Prose translated by Rosemarie Waldrop, Thames-in-Hudson, New York, The Sheep Meadow Press, 1986.



Stations of the Cross l

Serendipity; The Stations of the Cross.

I recently decided to create a series of images based on ‘ The Stations of the Cross’ not for their religious implications but because they are part of a story or narrative that still influences today whether we are religious or not.

After initial research and sketches of all fourteen of the Stations I started the final image of the first in March this year and initially was pleased with the results, but on a visit to Scunthorpe to see Antony  Gormely’s ‘Field for Britain’ at the 20/21 gallery,  I visited the local charity shops looking for art books and catalogues, as is my normal habit and what should I come across but a book of ‘The Stations of the Cross’ for St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Manchester, by Norman Adams RA, serendipity one. Where was I going in two weeks with a group of friends to meet up with others, but to Manchester, serendipity two.

I had the images in the catalogue of the works but went along to see them, possible a mistake on my part, I had seen them in the catalogue but when you see them in the flesh they are remarkable pieces of work, so work stopped on my images as one compares what I would call the intangible value and power in his and my own works. Adams’ works is the most powerful series of contemporary spiritual paintings I have come across.

It has taken six months to move forward and having ignored my image for that length of time have come back to it and viewed through a clearer lens from my own perspective have decided to continue with the series.

The remainder of this text will I hope enlighten the reader on that perspective.

In so far as morality is more than the sum total of mores, of customs and behaviour solidified through tradition and valid on the ground of agreements, both of which change with time, it has, at least politically, no more support itself than the good will to counter the enormous risks of action by the readiness to forgive and to be forgiven, to make promises and to keep them. [1]

Action is, in fact, the one miracle-working faculty of man, as Jesus of Nazareth, whose insights into this faculty can be compared in their originality and unprecedentedness with Socrates’ insights into the possibilities of thought, must have known very well when he likened the power to forgive to the more general power of performing miracles, putting both on the same level and both within the reach of man. [2]

I have spent the last ten years trying to understand who I am, I have read renowned thinkers like Descartes, John Locke, Michel Foucault, Henri Bergson, I even ventured into Plato’s Republic; I have read mathematicians like Roger Penrose, scientists like Richard Feynman and psychologists like Oliver Sacks, add to this the innumerable snippets of insights and thoughts gleaned from today’s virtual resources you would think I should have the job cracked but no, I still can’t put into words who I am.

Whilst I have a much deeper understanding of the factors and influences that have shaped me, this part of me that I cannot show the world has taken on a spiritual dimension. It is this dimension, the influencing narratives, paradigms, hegemonies and pedagogy that I want to explore through this series.

These are not religious paintings, but I seek to have within them a spiritual value that touches upon that inner self, that life force, but also through perhaps one of the best know stories, that of Christ’s Crucifixion,  explore the mechanisms through which we all locate the ‘wee man’ inside us we call ourselves.

An important part of this series is a new area of interest to me, it is less about me and more of how ewe as individuals or communities and nations come together and how we use these mechanisms to interact with different peoples, how we live together and how we resolve different beliefs within the system of customs and traditions that have evolved.

The first ‘Station of the Cross’ is the Christ condemned, so in the image I use half the ‘Scales of Justice’ lowered down to suggest a judgment against someone, in the scale are the three nails that will be required for the crucifixion two small for the hands and one larger for the feet together in the shape of a crucifix.  These objects and there placement all have meaning in Western pedagogies.

The rest of the image contains sections which reference human feelings through metaphor, the blue could be water rushing towards you evoking flooding, torrents ideas that oppress the spirit, the brighter colours and lighter sections of the image reflecting more optimistic or positive outcomes both ends of a spectrum of feelings through which we make judgments.

There is much of the image that is the work of the ‘wee man’ inside me that is intuitive and spontaneous, that is a product of what I find impossible to put into words.

About the work:  The work is mixed media on primed paper, primarily oil but also charcoal. The image measures; width 105cm x height 115cm

[1] Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 1958, University of Chicago Press, page 245 [par. 2].

[2] Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 1958, University of Chicago Press, page 246 [par. 2].

Homage to Hercules, (and Leo)

habeus corpus 

(for those who have not met me, that’s me on the right)

Animals and why I paint them.

The first recorded cave paintings are of animals and stick figures of those who hunted them, they were perhaps painted because of the significant importance they were for survival.

That relationship continuously changed as animals were domesticated, used for entertainment, sport and harnessed for work and each change has been documented through art. Today our past bonds with animals are very different to than of even recent history, meat is processed in factories, wildlife television coverage with powerful zoom lenses offers us views of animals we would never experience in life, very few circuses’ now use animals, and we embrace cats and dogs passionately as part of the family. (1)

Looking at animals I see understand better what marks me out as human but it also leads me to question the concept of anthropomorphism that attributes human values to animals. I believe most non human animals, especially those closely associated with humans in social settings actually feel longing, loneliness, loss, unhappiness, feel pleasure, enjoy companionship and experience happiness to some extent, and whilst these feeling may manifest themselves in ways we recognise as human it is perhaps the case that these feelings and emotions are not exclusively human but experiences felt by all sentient being to some degree.

Animals in law are treated as objects, they have no rights, but in 2014 the Nonhuman Rights Project (2) brought a case to court in New York about ‘Tommy’ a chimpanzee, kept in a cage in a Manhattan warehouse to try to establish rights for ‘Tommy’ they lost the case but will appeal, as the lawyer put it, the chimp has no more rights than a table or a chair. This would seem intuitively wrong but how one protects and defends animals and if they were extended rights is difficult to see who would bring a case as an animal could not do this. (3)

More recently this year The Nonhuman Rights Project brought another case to court on behalf of two chimpanzees Leo and Hercules used for medical experiments at Stony Brook University on Long Island. For the first time in US history, a judge has granted two chimpanzees a petition – through human attorneys – to defend their rights against unlawful imprisonment, allowing a hearing on the status of “legal persons” for the primates.(4). In all journeys many steps are required but this for me is one of those memorable steps. The next hearing on Leo and Hercules’s appeal is to be held on May 27th 2015.

Leonardo Da Vinci in the 15th century said “I have from an early age abjured the use of meat, and the time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men.”  

Now Leonardo seems to have given up meat at an early age, myself, sadly I have only come to this standpoint at the age of 63, this short statement highlights a small segment of my personal life journey to a ‘place’ where I am comfortable, why I draw and paint animals and it works for me. It is not a plea to “convert the wicked” so if you are tucking into a Chicken Madras, Beef Bourguignon or a Lamb Casserole tonight, Bon appetite!

As you enjoy them, a thought to ponder, how we treat animals is a mark of our humanity.


  1. Synopsis of a section from an essay “Why look at animals” by John Berger.

Space – the final frontier!

External Space l and ll

Movement, Memory and Space.

Locating myself in a space is much easier when movement is involved, that movement can be your own or something else also within the space you are at the time, but also involved is memory as we record previous positions or movements which deteriorate quickly in the memory remaining only long enough for us to calculate our relationship to other objects or people in a space.

The two works ‘External Space’ were created using these three elements, movement through perceived altered image size as something moves away  or towards you, the loss of memory of earlier images of the movement or relationship to a stationary object as the mind concentrates on the current situation. The drawings below are early sketches which demonstrate the idea.

Movement Drawing 01; a figure recorded moving across a space.
Movement Drawing 01; a figure recorded moving across a space.
Movement Drawing 02; a figure moving away from me in a space.
Movement Drawing 02; a figure moving away from me in a space.

These drawings were made from watching people and so were very rapid sketches, they are manipulated in that I returned to the images after they were initially made and exaggerated the definition in the final images with darker lines to convey time and so movement in the drawings.

One unintentional thing that came out of the drawings was a sense of rhythm through the recording of the movements.

The actual paintings were the first I made on voile which is a fine lining fabric which is coated with rabbit skin glue then primed.

I choose to use blue greys because I felt strong colours would detract from the three elements I was exploring and concentrated on the perceived size differences and the vagueness of outline. The impression of space follows.

External Space l,  Oil on voile, image size 57cm x 57cm.
External Space l, Oil on voile, image size 57cm x 57cm.

Both paintings  External Space l and ll can be seen in Page 4 Abstracts and geometric located under the Blog title.

Partridges rising above Slash Hollow

This is the landscape where the Battle of Winceby in the English Civil war took  place in 1643
This is the landscape where the Battle of Winceby in the English Civil war took place in 1643

This latest work is titled ‘Partridges rising above Slash Hollow’. It is in the East Lindsey District of Lincolnshire, behind the trees on the top left is ‘Snipe Dales’ nature reserve. As with the historical uncertainty of these things ‘Slash Hollow’ may well be behind the location of the viewer, it is know as ‘Slash Hollow’ because some retreating Royalists were killed or captured when they became trapped against a parish boundary gate that only opened one way (against them) and in their panic the press of men jammed it shut, allowing the Parliamentarians time to finish off or capture many Royalists.

I am interested in the influence the landscape we live in exerts upon us and as a Scot who has live in the area for the last 25 years such historical sites still inspire me. When I was up there making a couple of sketches I startled a pair of nesting partridges, hence the title.

Stolen Artworks; the search is on.

I am a cat person, recently I lost a cat on the road outside my house, that’s life, cats don’t do road sense. So when I got a new rescue cat ‘Poppy’ I though I would improve her chances and so came up with these signs.

cats crossing

‘They say ‘Cats Crossing’ on one side and ‘Thank You’ on the other. Last night a third one was stolen, one was stolen a week ago another earlier in the summer. Due to my frugal nature there is no reward for information about the whereabouts of these signs but if you do happen to see them I would love to know what part of the world they get to.

The last two I concreted in, but obviously not well enough, have one left so here’s hoping it will last.

Thank you for taking the time to read about the minutiae  of my daily life, you will fine a couple of cat images on my animals page I have recently updated, please do share the link if you have time.

have a good one, regards Malcolm.

Sometimes I wonder what I am doing.

I am fascinated by how we see the world around us and the way colour, shadow and shape add to the perceived depth of the three-dimensional world, to that end I have been creating a series of  canvas’ built up of graduated colour shape and shadow, the first of these finished images is below.


There are times when you wonder if you are on the right track, I am not sure at the moment but  shall persevere a little longer with these and see what develops.