On my other research site – Drawing Women’s Cancer: drawingcancer.wordpress.com - I have posted a series of recent drawings I made in the operating theatre while attending a gynaecological operation. I have put a couple up here too in the hope you will be interested to see more. The project is growing in terms of its impact and resonance since its inception in 2012 and it is my constant aim to ensure that this continues.

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I have attended various operations during the course of the project and all of the women who have allowed me to witness this part of their experience do so with the conviction that it will help me understand more profoundly what they are going through. Having, to borrow a term from legal channels, an ‘appropriate adult’ seems also to help sometimes as they try to deal with the natural anxieties that such an experience brings on.

In the true spirit of interdisciplinary practice in the Medical Humanities, the Drawing Women’s Cancer project offers a direct challenge to the rationale of an uncompromising ‘art-science’ dichotomy by demonstrating that, in practice, neither can be disassociated from our understanding of humanity and the manner in which we engage or disengage with the society in which we are a ‘person’. Art, medical science and philosophy, at least for me, seem inescapably entangled in a web of our own being and are constituent parts of the same overall human project, but visual art perhaps has the more obvious capacity to ‘bear witness’ to the trials that are often borne in the pursuance of being…in our physical enactment and psychological representation of life. Drawing Women’s Cancer is not only about disease, or medical intervention, or suffering, or the impact of illness; it is about all of these things. It is about, as Radley notes, what it feels like when ‘all sense of normality, and all the expectations of a future that accompany good health, suddenly become less real’. It is about the experience of illness, where that experience overrides all others. It is about creating a language that has the power to speak, not necessarily for the women whose personal stories are taken as the point of departure, but rather because of them, so that they may return.


Ex postcard front

More to come…..

image copy

A friend sent me this image…it was a shock, almost, as the piece is long since destroyed as a result of weeks of storage in a damp container on a journey from Cyprus to the UK.  Sadly the image cannot provide the impact of the original, which was some 3 metres long. ‘The Last Supper’ was a reaction to 9/11, painted in the comfort of a warm sunny studio in the Mediterranean only weeks after the event and born of so many feelings and emotions I was going through at the time. It feels strange to see it now – a huge piece in which I invested so much, but which was never shown, and never left the studio – I feel almost detached, as if it was another life. If I am really honest ….I think, I feel, that it was.

It’s been a while, but things have been moving fast for me in terms of work and research opportunities…almost a blur, as Drawing Women’s Cancer develops, amorphic beginnings of parallel international projects take more solid form, deadlines loom and the studio beckons. Life as a freelancer – an artist/researcher ‘visitor’ roaming the corridors and working with extraordinary people in and of various institutions is proving to be very accommodating. It nurtures my interdisciplinary being, and my independent soul, in a way that full time academia never did …but then, perhaps it was the particular academic positions that I held that were the problem, rather than the world itself.

Uppermost in my mind at the moment however is a major exhibition of my work that will be going up in November at The gate Arts centre in Cardiff. I am back in the studio where the smell of oil paint never fails to raise my spirits and inspire the academic in me to negotiate to more precarious, more recklessly intuitive route towards understanding. I will post more details later – maybe even gift the show a page of its own! – but for now here is a description of the show and a detail of one of the paintings.


Illness begins with ‘I’

To find oneself in Sontag’s Kingdom of the Sick is to experience the ‘abject’, the impossible object that remains still a part of the subject, and which Grosz tell us ‘signals the precarious grasp that the subject has over its identity and bodily boundaries’. To find oneself in the Kingdom of the Sick is to lose sight of oneself in the Kingdom of the Well, and to suffer in a world where the final abjection is to be found in Kristeva’s phenomenon of ‘death infecting life’. Medicine can define the abject. It can provide, sometimes, a passage back into the Kingdom of the Well. But as the person behind the diagnosis becomes a patient, individuality and the voice of suffering is often lost in the transformation.

This exhibition is about visualising the experience of illness through a creative act of witness. These are ‘portraits’ of the individual experience of levels of ‘dis-ease’ that can become so much a part of being itself that the discomfort is rarely contained within physical, mental or even spiritual boundaries. The experience can be chronic or acute, it can traverse a scale from devastation to mild irritation, but most importantly it is uniquely subjective, allied irrevocably to Self. This exhibition seeks to reinstate the voice of the individual caught between Kingdoms. Illness begins with ‘I’.


In a week I will be returning to the warmth and the hospitality of Galveston, Texas, once again the guest of the University of Texas Medical Branch Institute of Medical Humanities. I have bought new sandals.

This time, two motivations. I will continue to write on Drawing Women’s Cancer, and I will take up again the kind offer from the Director of Anatomy to observe and draw in the human dissection classes. I mean to work on some drypoint plates – the cadavers lend themselves to inscription through the diamond  which I hope will cut into the plate with a delicacy and a ‘tenderness’ that will do justice to the life that once was and the body that is. Spidery tendons and multiple layers of flesh and fat over bone. It is the subjectivity of experience that will occupy my mind and hand this time.

I am also pledged to teach on a Medical Humanities workshop to incoming medical students. I will adapt perhaps the workshop I gave in Glasgow. Here is a quote that I used then from a book that I found in the wonderful second hand bookstore in Glaveston on my last visit; a book that had a powerful impact on me. I used it that day in the city that claims a large part of my life and the lives of my children – who have grown strong and healthy. The quote  is about a child who did not, and the suffering she left behind.

‘Senora’, he began, ‘I am sorry’.  All at once he seemed to me shorter than he was, scarcely taller than she. There was a place at the crown of his head where the hair had grown thin. His lips were stones. He could hardly move them. The voice was dry, dusty. ‘No-one could have known. Some bad reaction to the medicine for sleeping. It poisoned her. High fever. She did not wake up.’ The last, a whisper.

The woman studied his lips as though she were deaf. He tried, but could not control a twitching at the corner of his mouth. He raised a thumb and forefinger to press something back into his eyes.

‘Muerte,’ the woman announced to herself. Her eyes were human, deadly.

‘Si, muerte’. At that moment he was like someone cast, still alive, as an effigy for his own tomb. He closed his eyes. Nor did he open them until he felt the touch of the woman’s hand on his arm, a touch from which he did not withdraw.

(Selzer, Richard, 1996 (1982), Letters to a Young Doctor, New York:Harvest Brace)

Suffering comes in many forms including the anguish that pervades so many aspects in between  life and death. The image here is one I came across again recently. I made it for  “sometimes I bleed…” an article I wrote some time  ago for the Journal for War and Culture Studies (Volume 4 Issue 1 (01 June 2011), pp. 127-139. It was a piece of ‘academic’ writing that nevertheless interrelated word image and subjectivity in a way that I still aspire towards.


Here are some details of some of the drawings in the drawing Women’s Cancer Show. Full details and pictures  of the show in situ are on the official site: drawingcancer.wordpresss.com

Putting the show up feels like a beginning rather than an end to the work….it is an extended dialogue that can only continue. The importance  of the project is etched in the faces of those who stand before the work and begin their own dialogue with what they are seeing. It is a hard subject.

Extras (11)

Extras (22)

Extras (25)

Extras (8)


Details (8)

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A short film I made for the Drawing Women’s Cancer project. (My first ever movie effort!)


This drawing is another from the Drawing Women’s Cancer project (drawingcancer.wordpress.com).

It derives from a transient moment. A connection between two human beings across a clinical boundary, that was as instant as it was fleeting. A look, a glance of understanding that although calm on the surface, contained within it all the suffering, the defiance, and the compassion that mere words could never engender.

She had no hair.

We never spoke, but her voice echoes softly, resolutely, in the drawing

Cardiff Central Library April 1-30

I will be there to talk about the work on Friday April 4th

Here’s a preview!



In his famous conversations with Claire Parnett, Deleuze explains that in the early stages of his illness he experienced no pain, and it seemed hardly an illness at all. Later however, he describes his sense of how TB causes the body to dissipate, to become transparent, and he defines in graphic detail an embodied experience of a ‘body turning to phlegm and mucus and sputum and finally blood’. And of air, ‘the need for better air’. He was at pains to describe his view of illness in general as both an active and reactive force that is not ‘an enemy, not something that gives the feeling of death, but rather something that gives the feeling of life…illness sharpens a kind of vision of life’, and indeed I have come across a similar reaction – albeit rarely –in conversations with cancer patients. However, in the same conversations he also acknowledges that ‘considering my actual state, it is a little bit as if I were already gone, and this seems to reflect an ambivalence toward his chronic situation, as well as his concept of the body as a perpetually self-differing, self-creating assemblage of processes and experience, both affecting and being affected by other bodies and experiences it encounters.

I am working  paintings and drawings for  two solo exhibitions. Drawing Women’s Cancer (detailed in the previous post) and ‘Seen Voices’ at The Gate Gallery in Cardiff in November this year. The image here is a piece I will be showing.

The latter will represent a very personal side of my practice as a whole, and serve in part as a ‘visual overview’ of my increasingly profound involvement in the Medical Humanities as artist, writer and human being. I strive to explore the social, historical and cultural dimensions of illness, as well as maintain those philosophical parameters within which I can move freely  and wherein the increasing urgency of the need for an alternative direction in the face of scientific objectivity is the fundamental driver for my practice.

I am in more than my usual state of flux, with various projects taking amorphous shape around me. I am feeling split, torn, rendered asunder –  yet it is a joyful disintegration of surety that leads to the heady delights of possibility and potentiality! I am returning to Galveston for May. I will have there the time and space to open my lungs to the sea air and let my thoughts breathe.



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