Wednesday, April 25, 2012

RE Today

over the past couple of years i've done a few things for RE Today - they're good people to work for, as the briefs are nice and open and they encourage their contributing artists to be creative and inventive. i like working for them, and really enjoy making the stuff that they commission. also, i really like the ethos of the publication, which makes the stuff that i do for them a bit more fulfilling than some of the more bread-and-butter projects that i work on. in the current issue, i have this little two-page strip that focusses on the story of sisyphus...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

a long post about that 'caiaphas' pic [and paul buchanan out of the blue nile]

here's a great interview with paul buchanan.
his music's been with me since i was a teenager, and there's an interesting bit in the interview there where he discusses the way in which his songs are almost designed encourage the listener to adopt them and bind them into their own personal narratives. that's certainly what i've done, and it's probably why almost everything with his voice in it exercises such a huge emotional pull on me.

coincidentally, i was just talking last week with mark roques at left bank about this quality of 'allusivity' in art - how good art has elements that we can discover and find personal resonances in - how we can come to own the work for ourselves as a result, and to find meanings in it that aren't necessarily put there intentionally by the artists. that's how i want my art to function, and i'm wondering if a lifetime of loving music by the likes of the blue nile has eventually taught me to understand that, or whether i gravitated towards their songs because i'm wired to look for that allusive content in stuff...

meanwhile and elsewhere on the net, i started to discuss the portrait of the high priest caiaphas that i made for gav's 'engedi' exhibition, and thought that i'd try and expand on that a bit here - if only for my own benefit :-)

the biblical passage that i was working with was from the gospel of John chapter 11 v49-57

Then one of them—it was Caiaphas, the designated Chief Priest that year—spoke up, "Don't you know anything? Can't you see that it's to our advantage that one man dies for the people rather than the whole nation be destroyed?" He didn't say this of his own accord, but as Chief Priest that year he unwittingly prophesied that Jesus was about to die sacrificially for the nation, and not only for the nation but so that all God's exile-scattered children might be gathered together into one people.

From that day on, they plotted to kill him. So Jesus no longer went out in public among the Jews. He withdrew into the country bordering the desert to a town called Ephraim and secluded himself there with his disciples.

The Jewish Passover was coming up. Crowds of people were making their way from the country up to Jerusalem to get themselves ready for the Feast. They were curious about Jesus. There was a lot of talk of him among those standing around in the Temple: "What do you think? Do you think he'll show up at the Feast or not?"

Meanwhile, the high priests and Pharisees gave out the word that anyone getting wind of him should inform them. They were all set to arrest him.

firstly, i liked the idea of caiaphas as a sort of accidental prophet... and that was a title that i had in my head from the beginning.
i was always looking to make some sort of portrait, but having been inspired by an exhibition of vanitas artwork in york last year, i was also thinking a lot about adding in allusive elements. in the end, just the mirror, candle, snuffer and bible remained [at one stage i was planning cushions, food, drink, a ladder, flowers, a musical instrument, a lamp, a bishops crook etc]

good mate simon hall agreed to sit for me, and this turned out really well. i like simon a lot, and in making him the subject of the image, i began to think of caiaphas in a more sympathetic light, maybe. there'll be theologians who'll argue that he was pre-destined to make his decision to have jesus executed, but beyond that i think caiaphas, born into a family of priests, was raised with a sense of duty towards the religious institution... i don't function well inside institutions and organisations, so i guess i'm inclined see C's failings in terms of the system he was part of...

caiaphas has been used - in the writings of dante and blake for example - as a bit of a cypher for hypocrisy and treachery, but i like the idea of him as a human being. drawing simon really helped me to see him in that way...

and then the decision to draw him as a modern-day priest was an easy one really... part of an ongoing drift that way in the rest of my work.

originally the plan was to have a central image of the high priest and then maybe add some smaller inset images at the bottom. in the end, the windows provide that. i was thinking of drawing in a view of leeds skyline in the background there, but the gate and the crowd outside ended up working better. i was thinking a lot about st paul's and it's attitude towards the occupy protesters while i was working on this, so some of that found it's way into the image..

i spent a week or two mulling the ideas over and making some little rough compositional drawings [shown above], before sitting down properly to draw simon. i made a few rough sketches of his hands, and one A3 pencil drawing which i then scanned into the imac.
the image was then built off of that, in Photoshop. i drew the image digitally using a wacom tablet, building it up, layer on layer. and it was completed over a period of a couple of weeks...

i got the finished piece printed by a giclee company, and it was interesting to see how it turned out - there were a couple of relatively unimportant elements that i included which were intentionally very faint on the computer screen, but which are pretty much invisible in the printed version. so there's a lesson learnt there for next time!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


so it's been a busy few days... :-)

first up was the engedi private view in colwyn bay last friday.
engedi is a new thing, dreamed and grafted into existence by good mate gav mart and a team of inspirational people that he's gathered on the north wales coast.

they've rescued the ground floor of a disused hotel and transformed it into an really quite lovely arts space - it's well worth visiting their blog to see where the venue was when they took it on and just what they've achieved there. it's really remarkable.

for their first event, gav and co have curated an easter exhibition, with 40 artists taking a little bit of the easter story and using it as the inspiration for a piece of art. there are paintings and sculptures; drawings, photos, installations and projections - it's great, and i'm really proud to have been asked to take part.
if you're in the area you should definitely take a look at the list of events that they've got going on around the show, and make the effort to get to one or more of them - you won't regret it!

our visit to wales was a bit of a flier - because on sunday we had to be back for the kid's football and then the private view of another show in the evening.
a couple of years back i was commissioned by rory keegan at cpas to create 19 images relating to the stations of the resurrection - a series of significant events in the christian story, beginning on easter morning with an earthquake and mary magdalene's visit to the tomb, and ending with paul's conversion on the road to damascus.
rory was brave enough to let me re-set the story in modern-day leeds and it was a brilliant commission for me. the images are now on display in a little exhibition in leftbank leeds [on the cardigan road, opposite the builder's merchant] and the volunteers there have done a great job in setting the whole thing up. it's open 4-8pm until the weekend, but if you're too far away to visit it in person, there is a 44-page catalogue that leftbank have had printed, which you can buy for £9.40 [p&p inc] by emailing

alternatively, you can buy the catalogue as a downloadable pdf from the lovely chaps at proost.
when cpas commissioned the work, they also got ian adams on board to write some stuff to accompany the images - prayers, meditations and little rituals to enhance the viewer's interaction with the work. they are really great, and proost are also making those available, along with some higher-resolution versions of the images so that folk can set up the stations for themselves as a more reflective/worshipful thing...

here's a taster image to whet your appetite...