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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.



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.


Galveston, oh Galveston, I am so afraid of dying
Before I dry the tears she’s crying
Before I watch your sea birds flying in the sun
At Galveston, at Galveston


I have just been awarded a Visiting Scholar Residency by the good people at the University of Texas Institute for Medical Humanities. Two months, October and November, to draft a monograph that documents the Drawing Women’s Cancer project ( since its inception. The good people could not know how much I appreciate their belief in me.

So, an opportunity, on the move once again, and this time toward the sun and a beach where Glen Campbell’s sea birds fly in much warmer air than their contemporaries that fly over the majestic coast of the Gower.

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