CHARCOAL, PASTEL AND CHALK STUDIES 1980 - PRESENT
BLACK CHALK DRAWINGS PITT RIVERS MUSEUM 1988 - 1994
The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford University is a perfectly preserved time capsule of the insane and chaotic greed of the British Empire at its zenith. Case upon case of magic things shoved up against each other with no anthropological rhyme or taxonomic reason. I went in there from time to time over a ten year stint, carrying a sketch book jut trying to respond to all that death and beauty. My favorite exhibit was and still is a massive hunk of hashish resin the size of a building brick, with a lot of holes drilled through it. It carried a hand written label "Native Tobacco, donated by the Reverend Fever'. 'Native Tobacco' was enjoyed by more than one enthusiastic missionary I reckon.
LARGE CHARCOAL DRAWINGS 1981-3 THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN SERIES
These large charcoal studies were all made in response to thinking about Thomas Mann's remarkable approaches to conception, death, decay, birth and immortality in The Magic Mountain. One passage in particular lay underneath this work:
"Our young adventurer, supporting a volume of embryology on the pit of his stomach, followed the development of the organism from the moment when the spermatozoon, first among a host of its fellows, forced itself forward by a lashing motion of its hinder part, struck with its forepart against the gelatin mantle of the egg, and bored its way into the mount of conception, which the protoplasm of the outside of the ovum arched against its approach. There was no conceivable trick or absurdity it would not have pleased nature to commit by way of variation upon this fixed procedure. In some animals, the male was a parasite in the intestine of the female. In others, the male parent reached with his arm down the gullet of the female to deposit the semen within her; after which, bitten off and spat out, it ran away by itself upon its fingers...
Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain" 'Research'
I later found that these drawings were in fact the preparatory work for my Gestation series of mural sized oil paintings.
CHALK STUDIES FOR GOUACHE MINIATURES
These were French chalk studies in which I first worked though compositions for my gouache miniatures. The drawings and later the finished paintings took up the tragic right hand corner from Turner's Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying. Turner's painting has always haunted me, as it did John Ruskin. I wrote a whole chapter about the picture in my book Blnd Memory.
Turner showed slave bodies descending beneath the waves as a phantasmagoric fury of opalescent marine life moved in to devour the victims. Here I took one victim and made her relationship with her devourer calmer and more intimate.