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Its been a good first week, a very busy week and one that has afforded me  a rich opportunity to reflect on my practice in a very intensive way.  It has also brought a  complete change in the way I am working. Here, I am sitting mostly alone in the dissection room poring over small scale intricate drawings, whereas over the last few months back in my studio in Cardiff I have been working on large scale drawings and oil paintings to prepare for the Breast Cancer: a creative intervention exhibition. The difference in practical terms is stark,  but the sense of immersion in the work is the same, if not intensified, here in Dundee as when I am alone I find I can enter depths of myself that general life often dictates I should bridge. Moreover, the feeling of being so welcomed within an environment where the science behind what I do as an artist is so ‘palpable’ is  exciting and inspirational. It’s also very interesting in relation to the differences between the science lab and the hospital wards and theatres that I work in.

I am teaching here too. Running the life drawing classes and joining in on the ‘crits’ with students on the MSc Forensic and Medical Art courses is a pleasure and a great experience. It is a valuable challenge to adapt my way of teaching to address what the students need most. It helps of course that they are keen and willing to learn. In the image below thats me at the back – drawing on the wall!

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I am staying in Broughty Ferry, a small coastal  town just outside the city and it has become for me  very special place. Being by the water is always very evocative for me but that’s another, longer story! For now I simply  offer the image here (taken from the window of my rented flat) of the sunset that I came home to yesterday evening.

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Remnants

There’s that smell again

Familiar to me now

not the smell of Death so much as of lives once been

Remnants steeped in Thiel fluid

the smell of life deconstructed

Number [—-]

A head torn from the vertebrae

Mouth agape as if gulping a final breath

Skin flayed from the mandible

Eyeless sockets that still see me

plead to be once more hidden under the plastic shroud

Cold

I am cold

It is cold in here

The remnant of his eyebrow expresses such pathos

Defying recourse to objectivity

to cold death

My drawing begins to change

I pull back the plastic shroud even further

ignoring entreaty

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Just got the news yesterday that I have a small amount of funding to carry out a project that is close to my heart and I have been thinking about for ages! I am of course delighted that I’ll finally be able to realise Cancer Ward 12 working at Singleton Hospital in Swansea. Work is now set to begin in November this year with an exhibition scheduled for June 2017. More details later but for now here is a brief summary of the idea.

Cancer Ward 12 draws on literature (The Cancer Ward, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, pub. 1967) and on life. It is a project that, as a discrete piece of research in its own right, carried out at Singleton hospital in Swansea, has enormous potential to further develop into a comparative study. There are two parts:

The first part involves my ‘immersion’ into the day-to-day life on the Oncology Ward of Singleton Hospital, which is a thirty bed, general oncology/haematology ward where patients with a variety of cancers and disease related symptoms are treated and cared for.  Working directly with consenting patients and their family members/carers, and with health professionals and hospital staff I will document what I see and experience through drawing and written narrative. I will use a ‘narrative medicine’ approach to gather individual experiences of illness, and of different forms of giving and receiving treatment.

The second part of the project will involve developing all the notes and sketches made on site as a basis for creating a substantial a body of work  for public exhibition.

Here is an early invitation to another show that I will be putting up at the Waterloo Gallery in September. This time the exhibition will be at their Wyndham Arcade venue in the centre of Cardiff, and I am excited to be working in Collaboration with Luis Fernando Noriega. Luis is a gifted fine art photographer based in Antigua Guatemala, and since my visit to the city last year we have been working together to produce something which I hope will present a rather special collaborative insight into life and culture in the city.

The good writer possesses not only his spirit but also the spirit of his friends, much like the photographer has an undeniable connection to his surroundings. For me, that perception-altering connection was made with Antigua Guatemala. A city filled with history and unique colonial architecture, Antigua offers a perfect setting to capture a compelling frame on every single one of its cobblestone streets and avenues. The contrast of the mundane wonders of everyday-life against such a unique dreamscape of a city creates the necessity to frame every shot in a way in which the foreground and the background become a single story to be told. For this exhibit I want to present Antigua in a way that no one else has seen it before. The angles and the light are crucial because Antigua has been photographed so many times and I want to take a fresh look at what my city means to me. Luis Fernando Noriega, 2016

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Having spent time in Antigua, Guatemala, I was struck by its cultural richness and by my own responses to the emotional ‘nearness’ of the suffering endured by the Mayan people throughout half a millennium. Peace Accords that finally ended the conflicts of recent history were signed in 1996 but contemporary Guatemala bears the scars of war and the wounds are deep. In my practice I often use portraiture as a conceptual framework for exploring the relationship between culture and contemporary society and this collaboration with Luis Fernando Noriega is a great opportunity to bring together our two different approaches to a subject matter that is deeply meaningful. This exhibition will fully realise the affinity between art and photography, where both are conceived as discrete art forms in themselves, yet at the same time they are interrelated processes of visual exploration. Jac Saorsa, 2016

Its been an inspiring day! I have been drawing in the operating theatre at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire, working alongside leading cardiothoracic surgeon Mr Francis (Frank) Wells. Here are some of the drawings I made during the two hour long open heart surgery procedure on a middle age woman.

I was fascinated, as always, to watch a surgeon at work, and to experience what I can only describe as the ‘undulating’ dynamics of the operating theatre as everybody present played their individual part in making sure the whole thing went as planned. The intensity of the procedure rose and fell – but gently, without obvious drama – from the initial ‘opening of the chest’ to the final closure.  The ‘craftsmanship’ involved, and the dedication to the task at hand was orchestrated throughout – or perhaps choreographed might be a better description – by the needs of the patient who lay, oblivious to the fact that her heart was for a time no longer beating naturally.

Each time I attend a surgical procedure I  deepen my understanding of why I do what I do and how much I enjoy doing it! The artist and the surgeon have much in common perhaps.

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Here is a just finished portrait. This much colour is unusual for me and I am now working on a more sombre anatomical dissection piece! More of that later.

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I am in Glasgow once again. I am working on a book that I am writing in collaboration with one of the strongest women I have ever met. She is one of the women I worked with during the early days of Drawing Women’s Cancer and I will post more about our project together on that project site as we progress.

In the meantime, while in Glasgow, my sense of family becomes very real and almost tangible to me. It is a place we call home, me, my man, and our two children – now grown into beautiful and inspiring adults. Glasgow is a city that we call home,  not through heritage but by adoption, and I still can see and feel my children with me as I walk familiar pavements. My daughter now dives in crystal waters where there is still space for her to to find what she has long been looking for. It could be on one side of the world or the other but for now she favours the  sun in Latin America, while in the ‘mutual’ middle of our worlds, in Glasgow, I can spend a little time with her brother, my son, Finn Le Marinel, still here in the rain. He is a fine musician. He peers, as I do, deep into the soul, but what he sees is expressed through what others must hear, rather than see. Nevertheless he borrows my work for the covers of his albums, but I suspect that he would not wish to use the image here. It is an older piece made around 2103, maybe 2012; memory is defeated by the unimportant. What is important is that it is a piece which, in Finn’s absence, I ‘borrowed’ from him…and altered. I may have shown it before here – it was certainly shown in Illness begins with ‘I’ – but today it takes on new significance.

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Contrasts is the title of this post and there are contrasts indeed in the work I am engaged in at the moment! I am busy with different aspects of five separate projects and I am feeling very positive about how things are going with all of them. A huge amount of my time recently has been taken up with completing the second body of work for the  Drawing Out Obstetric Fistula exhibition in New York, but it is all now complete and arrangements for the show are in full swing. Just click on the  website for more details.

I am looking forward very much of course to the NY show, and also to hopefully raising some money to fund further work on the Obstetric Fistula project. I have two other exhibitions however to work towards this year and the image here  is a ‘teaser’ for one that will be launched in September in Cardiff. It will be a show in collaboration with a very gifted fine art photographer, Luis Fernando Noriega, who lives and works in Antigua, Guatemala. My oil paintings and drawings of the Mayan inhabitants of the city that I made during and after my visit there late last year, will respond to and reflect on Luis’s powerfully emotive photographs of the crumbling architecture.  https://www.facebook.com/LuisFernandoNoriegaPhotography

Entitled CONTRASTS: two interpretations of Antigua, Guatemala, the intention behind the exhibition is to present both Luis’s local view and that of a visitor to Antigua, which together, simultaneously explore several forms of parallel interrelation: that between art and photography, that between the human inhabitants of the Antigua and its historical, cultural and architectural heritage, and, perhaps most importantly, that which defines  the cultural disparity between Mayan tradition and contemporary society.  In addition to the conventional exhibition launch event we are planning to organise an evening talk where the audience can engage with the issues that the show will raise, but more details on that nearer the time.

 

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It has been a difficult few months. Illness and surgery have taken their toll and colours have darkened around me. Things are moving on however both in health and in practice and portraiture has been a significant part of the latter recently (see previous post). This self portrait has been through many incarnations over the months, dependent on – and at the same time being precipitative of – my state of mind. This latest version suffers in itself for the constant reworking and hides much beneath the thickness on the paint… pentimento – ghosts of myself lie uneasy underneath what I think is a finished state but, reflecting life – and death, I may yet rework the painting until it is finished only through its destruction.

 

In my work on the various projects in medical settings the making of the art, for me, is a creative act that goes beyond documentation. It is an act of empathic witness and the art itself becomes both agent and advocate of patient autonomy through its unique capacity to engage the subjective sensibilities of the viewer. This goes far beyond Alan Radley’s concept of the asymmetric relation – it is a complete immersion of one subjectivity into the world of many others and the results that are derived from such a conflagration serve only to further blur the boundaries between objective rationalism and the passionate human need to co-exist and share experience.

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So, for the last two weeks I have been immersed in the culture, and the sheer dynamism of the Oncology Department at Singleton Hospital in Swansea on the first stage of the Medicine Unmasked project. You can find out more about the project and follow its progress here: medicineunmasked.wordpress.com

I have been shadowing four students who are now two weeks into their five-week  ‘oncology apprenticeship’ on the Graduate Entry Medical program at Swansea University College of Medicine. Through shadowing, observing, taking notes, engaging in and recording one-to-one conversations with students and medical professionals, and generally getting the feel, from my artist’s perspective, of the students own experiences in terms of learning and teaching of their placement on the department, I have amassed copious notes, sketches and ideas that will all be used as ‘data’ for when I  return to the hospital for a further two weeks in January. During this second stage of the project I will work on a body of artwork, drawings inspired by  the process as a whole, but until then, and in the meantime, I will offer a series of posts on this blog that relate to the project both directly, as the experiential nature of the project demands, and more theoretically, as the same experiential nature of the project has encouraged! Needless to say I would appreciate any comments/feedback for the posts on this site as all such content potentially impacts on the process of the research as a whole and is therefore very valuable.

“As an experienced doctor you may have seen twenty patients who, say, have had a heart attack. But this patient has only seen one. It’s their first experience so I think that’s what we have to bear in mind.” (2nd year Student)

I want to begin by expressing my deep appreciation and gratitude to everybody I have been working with; the students themselves, the consultant oncologists that are working alongside, specialist nurses, all nurses on the wards, radiologists, staff in the hospital library, in the cafe, and indeed all hospital staff who I have met and who have been so wonderfully accommodating of someone who –  let’s face it –  must seem a slightly strange presence in the day-to-day dealings of the hospital as I sit quietly and watchfully with sketch-book or dictaphone in hand! I also owe huge thanks of course to the patients who have been so willing to let me be a witness, alongside the professionals and the medical students, to their experiences during consultation, examination and, in one case, of having a ‘shell’ made of his head in preparation for radiotherapy.

As a small group of two boys and two girls, three in their second year and one in her fourth and final year the students have enthusiastically welcomed me into their world as they tackle the demands both professional and personal of working in the department, and in the process my own learning curve has been close to vertical! As much as I have been learning about the student experience both in the specific terms of the apprenticeship model, and in the more general terms of the GEM course as a whole, I have also had the fantastic opportunity to engage with the theory, and most directly the practice of oncology in a way that has had a profound impact on my perception of myself and my practice as an artist working in medicine. It has confirmed, in a very visceral way, that this is the right place for me to be in terms of how I understand my art and what it can do.

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