MS Dolls

Notes from sketchbook for exhibition

WRAPPED DOLLS  –  21/3/16

The wire wrapped dolls represent something in me. Suffering, Anger, Pain, Frustration. I was stricken with Multiple Sclerosis. MS is a random affliction. It strikes innocent victims by chance. As far as we know, there is nothing we have done to make our affliction more likely. This, perhaps, is why I have chosen baby/dolls as innocent victims of my torture. The wire is a symbol of nervous systems. Messages gone astray, diverted, destroyed by the progress of my condition.

MS manifests its’ presence in your body in many ways. Crushing fatigue, ghostly pain – needles, burning sensations, pressing/constricting/suffocating sensations. Cognitive difficulties. Fogging and clouding one’s faculties. Balance issues, falling, vertigo, depression, even suicidal thoughts.



These are photos of my first doll, wrapped in Earth shielding (insulation) not wire and pierced with pins. The tiny fingers stabbed with pins are meant to shock/revulse the viewer.


I like the glimpse of blue eye in the picture above. Human. A reminder of ‘real’babies.

Pins in and around the eyes. Optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve, often resulting in temporary/partial blindness, is a common MS symptom.


A second doll. This time wrapped in red and black wire. Chaotic. Tangled. The nose, lips and fingers still clearly visible. A blue eye again peeps at us despite the almost complete ‘blind-folding’ by the wrapping of the wire.


Red and black is strangely sexual. Reminiscent of S+M practices.

This doll will be hung, suspended from the ceiling in a permanent act of falling.



ISLAND OF THE DOLLS ( Islas de las muñecas )  –  Xochimilco, near Mexico City.


Work by Julian Santana Barrera (born 1921, died 2001).

‘A two-hour canal ride from Mexico City lies Isla de las Muñecas, or the Island of the Dolls. It is the best-known chinampa, or floating garden, in Xochimilco. It belonged to a man named Julián Santana Barrera, a native of the La Asunción neighborhood. Santana Barrera was a loner, who was rarely seen in most of Xochimilco. According to the legend, Barrera discovered a little girl drowned in mysterious circumstances in the canals. He also found a doll floating nearby and, assuming it belonged to the deceased girl, hung it from a tree as a sign of respect. After this, he began to hear whispers, footsteps, and anguished wails in the darkness even though his hut—hidden deep inside the woods of Xochimilco—was miles away from civilization. Driven by fear, he spent the next fifty years hanging more and more dolls, some missing body parts, all over the island in an attempt to appease what he believed to be the drowned girl’s spirit. After Barrera’s death in 2001—his body reportedly found in the exact spot where he found the girl’s body fifty years before—the area became a popular tourist attraction where visitors bring more dolls. The locals describe it as “charmed”—not haunted—even though travelers claim the dolls whisper to them. Professional photographer Cindy Vasko visited the nightmarish island earlier this year and described it as the ‘creepiest place she has ever visited’. The excursion began through maze-like canals, surrounded by lush greenery and beautiful singing birds, but soon her boat was slowed down by a swarm of lily pads and the canal fell ominously silent. She told MailOnline: ‘At the end of the journey, the trajinera turned along a bend in the waterway and I was struck by a surreal vision of hundreds, maybe thousands, of dolls hanging from trees on the tiny island.’ Santana Barrera died in 2001. The dolls are still on the island, accessible by boat.’



[ Photograph form ‘The Gardener’ (2013) Available from : }

These pictures are influences but not progenitors of MS dolls project. They are again the result of a google search of ‘hanging dolls’ which opened out into a number of interesting photographs of dolls.

These are evocative and powerful images. The doll as a symbol of childhood, innocence and, somehow, they ‘are’ children/babies. It is shocking to see them cast aside, disfigured or abused.

This is an important element of my work/this project. MS, my condition, is largely invisible and it is easy to be complacent and overlook the suffering and pain of its’ victims.

The facts that we know so little of the origins or causes of MS and that it is visited upon people so randomly, without reason/blame is perplexing. More than this it makes me Angry! ANGER is an important emotion in this work.

I am a long way from accepting MS. There is an internal rage at what MS has taken away. I guess I have to express the hidden rage, the invisible pain (and other symptoms) in my Art. I want the viewer/s to question, ask themselves, how can I  have missed this suffering? How can I have overlooked, have not seen, the pain that is borne by someone with MS?

I guess we are to blame. Too often people ask ‘How are you?’ and the answer is ‘OK, up and down’ or some such platitude. Truth is we suffer, we have lost and we keep quiet. Our silence is complicity. This project is about yelling and shouting and punching the face of an invisible aggressor!


China dolls head on the seafloor, in sand, near the wreck of the Titanic. Taken as a still from the film of the wreck at the bottom of the North Atlantic.


Burned doll, Alicia, found at the remains of a house fire in New York on Christmas Eve in 1997 . The doll was put out on the curb and abandoned but was rescued by a neighbour.

Available from:



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This is the image I chose to print to accompany the ‘Water’ sculpture in the exhibition. Close up of a doll submerged in cloudy water inside a large glass container. Hints of bubbles makes it all the more disturbing and baby-like.


This shows the clouded water well and the different colours of wire used to wrap the doll. I wanted to use changing colours to emphasize increasing depth of submersion. Neutral, buoyant, floating nature of doll’s pose is what I had aimed for.

Large glass vase (diameter c.30cm and height c.50cm) filled with water – coloured blue/clouded ? Like the idea of misting (clouding ) of the water to partially obscure doll/contents of water-filled vase.

The doll is fully submerged, perhaps closer to the surface – hope?

It is wrapped in mostly white wire with some blue/green.

Wires tie doll to rocks weighing it down.

Large stones (rounded pebbles), gravel (‘lightning stones’ collected  in Lake Garda, Italy and sand (as a protective layer for glass) at bottom.


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Colour-balance enhanced and selective focus to create halo/crown of thorns effect. Originally, I selected this image to accompany/enhance installation of ‘Fire’ sculpture in Framework Gallery atrium but rejected it in favour of another image for final print.

These pictures were taken in Ashridge forest with a ‘bonfire’ of branches and leaves constructed on site.


The close up image below was the final choice used to accompany the installation for the exhibition at U of H.

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The doll is wired to a central stake and a ‘bonfire’ of burnt (?) branches encloses the space around the burnt, blackened doll. The doll itself is wrapped in black wire.

This is reminiscent of witch burning.

I have an idea to burn the doll and film the event. I would fill, or partially fill, the wooden cone and set it alight. It will, hopefully, burn briefly and add burnt effects to the doll and soot, etc to the branches.

The video could be shown on screens at the top of the Lindop stairs.

[Location: Ivinghoe Beacon? Tring Park? At night/after dark.]


The doll is wrapped in green and yellow EARTH shielding and partly buried in soil. It may be presented in a wooden tray and surrounded with a chicken wire ‘cage’ which will help to contain the leaves.

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The pins are a  reference to the sensations of ‘pins and needles’ felt by many with MS.

To expand upon wire-wrapping. Yes, it is representing the nervous system as a conducting network. It is externallising, making explicit the network within. Additionally, the wrapping, binding of the dolls speaks of the restrictions of MS. Our nerves and their decay hold us prisoner.

I have experimented with wire wrapping of canvasses (below). From pictures of the network of neurons in the brain I got some inspiration for rectilinear, almost textile/woven canvasses.

And why dolls? Well, they are innocent, child-like and blameless. Symbols of childhood. At the same time we ‘feel’ their mistreatment. I joke that ‘I torture my babies, but in a sense I’m serious. I take out my anger on something inanimate but imbued with a strange, synthetic humanity. These dolls ‘stand in’ for me. I am tortured by this condition. Blameless, innocent, I am plagued by this disease.


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This doll, wrapped in blue wire, is trapped between aerated concrete blocks separated by gap such that the doll is squeezed, obviously under pressure ( < 10cm). The gap is maintained bt steel bolts, screwed into the concrete and bolted to secure separation. I had initially planned to use metal cylinders but the blue steel here compiments the tones of the concrete blocks and the blue wire very nicely.


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Pictures taken of doll suspended from tree in Ashridge forest. The doll was wrapped in red and black wire.


I began with a title ‘MSaint MSebastian’ for this work but abandoned it is favour of ‘this saint …’ when I realised that I there was a message hidden within the words. THIS SAIN’T AND MARTYR ( THIS IS TRUTH ).

28040_488599   2 St._Sebastian_Rubens

[ 1. SCHONGAUER, M. (1469/74) Engraving printed on paper (154mm x 111mm)  Clarence Buckingham Collection, Art Institute of Chicago.]

[ 2. RUBENS, P. P. ( c1614) 0il on canvas (200cm x 128cm)              Gemaldgalerie auf der Kulturforum, Berlin.

This was originally painted for the Borghese family in Rome. Rubens was influeced by the work of Michelangelo which he saw in the Vatican collection. The pose is reminiscent of the Laocoon group (200BC – 70AD?) ]

St Sebastian was a martyr of early christianity. Martyred for proselitising, converting people to christianity. He was pierced by many arrows but recovered, hence his canonisation, but was later clubbed to death. He is a St associated with the bubonic plague. Patron saint of sufferers of the plague and said to offer protection from it.

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My sculpture features a doll bound hands and feet to a tree stump, blindfolded with wire and with a modest loincloth also of black wire. The pose is as close to that in the paintings as I could get. In place of arrows I used syringes. The piece was mounted on MDF and placed on a plinth c1.2m tall to make it readily visible. Needles sleeves were arranged and glued around the doll.

This piece provoked the most comment. Placed, as it was, opposite the exit to one of the main teaching rooms. Many students commented and some were quite disturbed by it. It was meant to disturb ( Art should disturb!) and antipathy was expected.

300px-Sandro_Botticelli_054   4 st-sebastian-1506.jpg!Large (1)

[ 3. BOTTICELLI, S. (1474) St Sebastian.    Tempera on wooden panel (195cm x 75cm)                Staatliche Museen, Berlin. ]

[ 4. MANTEGNA, A. (1490) The martyrdom of St Sebastian, also known as St Sebastian of Venice.  Tempera on wooden panel (210cm x 91cm)          Ca’d’Oro, Venice. ]

Note the pose of the doll here. Blidfolded and bound to a stake, reminiscent of execution (by firing squad) of prisoners. Why are all of my dolls blidfolded? Perhaps it is a comment, unconscious, on the uncertainty of MS. I cannot see the future, none of us can, but maybe I don’t want to see the future. These sculptures are a commentary on the symptoms and effects of MS now. The future progress of the disease is unwritten and not a little scary!


Corridor with illustrative photograph for ‘Earth’, picture for ‘Fire’ just visible between Anna’s gowns and her fabric printed micrographs. The photo of ‘Water’ in situ in UofH with illustrating picture above. Sand, pebbles and rocks visible at the bottom of the vase – doll attached by white wire to two large rocks at the bottom.

Picture used to illustrate ‘Crushed/Fatigue’ shows clips and nails used to hang pictures. The ‘Air/Falling’ dolls was suspended by wires at 90° to the wall.

Three sculptures – ‘Fire’ (foreground) and ‘Crushed/Fatigue’ (top right) with ‘Saint and Martyr’ (top left) in situ in Framework Gallery Atrium. The other work in the atrium was ‘Earth’ which appears to have emerged from the ground beneath the paving in the atrium.

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I placed ‘Crushed/Fatigue’ on four aerated concrete blocks to increase height and visibility.


‘Fire’ is shown in a bonfire of willow twigs and leaves. Leaves blew all over the atrium giving a hint of autumn to the installation. Before the private view on 10/5/16 extra budles of black willow twigs were added to prevent leaves from blowing away from the piece.

Free at last

8th January 2016

The pressure is off. The pressure is on. Next step. Right. Exhibition with Anna Chatwin, although the date has yet to be confirmed by Sally Freshwater. Looking forward to the challenge and the catalyst of having a deadline to aim at so I hope we get the slot we’ve asked for.

It has been a creative week. Researching, collecting images and ideas, checking out the work of new artists, sketching and modelling. Oh, and lots of thinking. So much that my brain hurts at times and I need to take a while to let my head cool down.

Found Cuppetelli and Mendoza, a couple of artists working in Detroit, from image on Pinterest. Their work has a beautiful simplicity but at the same time is striking and complex. I like the interactivity and the changing, dynamic nature of their pieces.


It’s worth looking at their website ( ), lots more images and information.

Another artist I discovered this week is John M Armleder. Link to review of his work on Frieze website ( ).

Was led into his work by the small, silver brain as this is an area of research for the exhibition with Anna. I found a hugely varied range of work, some of which was strangely similar to my own work.

Armleder was a contemporary of Beuys and started his own Swiss branch of Fluxus in the 1960s, Groupe Ecart. Also leading light in the Neo/Geo movement in 70s and 80s had considerable success in US. Exhibitions are dense and installation like and he is very concerned with the experience of viewing all of his work as a whole.

Reflective Post

2nd January 2016

The process of producing a creative blog and the Research and Enquiry module as a whole has led me to consider my personal creativity with an intensity I have not contemplated before. My development as an artist has been a long process, often irregular and fitful, with periods when life just got in the way. Since I began the MA course I have been able, for the first time, to devote my energy fully to art.

So, how has my creative process, in this new environment, evolved?

I used to paint and I used to draw. I was often heard to say ‘I think best with a pencil in my hand’. MS closed these avenues of expression. It’s not that I can no longer pick up a 4B or handle a brush but the accuracy I relied on has gone. Whereas I thought of myself as a competent painter and  draughtsman, stiffness and spasticity has forced me to explore other routes.

This has not been a wholly bad thing. It has opened up new areas of expression. In truth, my practice had been moving away from traditional 2D media and becoming more sculptural for some time. Physical limitations have been a catalyst to development of different skills.

The process of research, something which I had not engaged with formally before, opened my eyes to a wide range of current art practice. I discovered, and via social media was able to converse with, a number of other artists around the world expressing their experiences of multiple sclerosis in their work. Photographer Hannah Laycock, in Scotland, and Visual Artist Elizabeth Jameson, in the United States, have been inspirational and influenced the direction of my own work.

A parallel strand of my work has been physics, in particular quantum mechanics. Research in this area has also been fruitful. I continue to be fascinated by the quantum world and the many questions it raises about our existence. Through journals and online resources, I have become aware of many other artists pursuing their own interests in quantum phenomena. The uncertainty and apparent chaos of the quantum world has been expressed in work of sculptors  Antony Gormley and Julian Voss-Andreae. Their work provides few answers to their audience and raises a host of new questions. I think that is the essence of contemporary art practice, to leave people with questions that they will seek to answer in their own lives. If there is one thing I aspire to in my work is to inspire questions.

Learning starts with questions. Curiosity drives the search for understanding and in my practice I seek to stimulate the search for knowledge. Perhaps this is the synthesis of the strands my art. My history as an educator is no accident, I want to open up the hidden areas of science and neurology. Through contemplation of my pieces, I want to inspire people to question, to search for understanding, to find their own answers.

This all sounds a bit pretentious. It’s not meant to be. I don’t want to pretend to be an artist. I am an artist, at last, and I’m here to make you think, whether you like it or not.



Ellsworth Kelly

1st January 2016

Ellsworth Kelly died on 27th December 2015. I read about it in Art News and it touched me as I consider him a key influence on my own work.


(FRED R. CONRAD (2012) A picture of Ellsworth Kelly in the area of his studio where he paints – illustrating an article written by Carol Vogel ‘True to his abstraction‘ for the New York Times, January 20th 2012.)

His minimalist, abstract pieces extended my understanding of colour, shape and form. His use of multiple, brightly coloured elements and embracing of chance in placing them were things I was exploring myself. That he had so fully mapped out this area of the abstract landscape was a great help.

ELLSWORTH KELLY Purple, Red, Grey, Orange (1988) – colour lithograph edition of artist’s proof of 8 (107cm by 519cm)

ELLSWORTH KELLY Colours on a grid (1976) – colour lithograph edition of 46 (123cm by 123cm)

He worked both in paint and on sculpture, often melding the two and leading one to question the boundaries of the piece. Again I found that where I was headed he had gone before. If I was to find my own plot on the map of art I could follow his lead but I would have to strike out on my own to truly find my place.


ELLSWORTH KELLY Sculpture for a large wall (1957) – anodised aluminium panels (shown in installation at MoMA in New York to whom the work was donated by Ronald Lauder)

Wall mounted, three-dimensional pieces were, and continue to be, an inspiration for my own practice.


ELLSWORTH KELLY Color panels for a large wall (1978) – located in the atrium of the National Gallery of Art, Washinton D.C. USA

(Note: There are similarities between Kelly’s work and some of the work of Kate Kessling, a British artist living and working near Oxford. I saw her work in an exhibition last spring at the Modern Artist Gallery in Whitchurch on Thames near Reading.

KATE KESSLING and PAUL KESSLING (2015) Two works from Dot Matrix Series – hand turned resin blocks on concrete (approximately 100cm by 150cm)

Kate and her husband Paul have produced these pieces in collaboration and they reflect the pairs shared interest in complex mathematics. The matrix structure and colours are chosen using a Pythagorean number system in which dots are used as a means of calculation.)


This is one of my own wall pieces from 2008. 36 Elements painted wooden pieces on board (50cm by 50cm). The colour and orientation of each piece is decided by chance, a technique also used by Kelly in the production of many of his works.

It is clear that Ellsworth Kelly’s influence on many artists has been profound and wide-ranging.

Bad timing

27th December 2015

Whether it’s the chaos of festivities, irregular hours or binge eating, not to mention multiple varieties of alcohol, something has kicked my MS dog and it has woken up barking. Long-winded explanation but the short result is I’ve spent a lot of Christmas lying down with zero energy.

This is not uncommon. One of the most debilitating symptoms of MS is neurological fatigue. It’s not tiredness in the sense of exhaustion but it is an inability to act. The messages just don’t get through and my body interprets this as pain and fatigue.

So, I have a lot of enforced thinking time and the opportunity to reflect upon my own creative process. MS has forced me to adapt. Whereas, in the past, imagination and action blended into a continuous process, now I have separate times for each stage of creation.

As I said, I have a lot of time when I cannot physically work. I can still think and some of my best ideas have come to me in these periods. I keep a small notebook by my bed and, when I can, I scribble or sketch ideas that have occurred to me as I rest.


When I have recovered I can review these ideas and develop them further. Often I will have been able to consider compositions in quite a detailed way while physically incapacitated. Materials, dimensions, colours will all have been decided. The time when I am unable to act means that ideas can emerge, in a sense, finished and with a certain polish.

Sketches and models allow for further development. As a sculptor I have to respond to the materials. Something which has seemed possible in the workshop of my mind may be impossible in reality. Openness and a willingness to ‘go with the flow’ of material’s properties and limitations is essential. I experimented with using a polymer-based modelling clay instead of willow twigs for the twisted 3D elements. I was interested to see how bands of colour could be incorporated into the elements. Using just black and white clays I found that the process of rolling out the clay blurred the boundaries between the colours so I decided not to pursue this avenue.

I have to make the most of the times when I have energy. I will work with purpose and intensity when I am able to do so. At the same time I have to be aware of the limits MS puts on my reservoir of energy. I work best in concentrated short bursts but it may take several sessions to complete a work.


As to the decision as to when a work is truly completed, this is a dilemma faced by artists the world over. When to let a work go? Sometimes a deadline hastens the decision but the choice to let a piece go out to public scrutiny has to be made eventually. As Leonardo Da  Vinci said, at least four centuries ago, ‘Art is never finished, only abandoned’. As true now as it was then, although Da Vinci was notorious in his unwillingness to let his work go. If an artist works in isolation then they can update, discard, destroy pieces as they see fit. But I am not isolated. I want to show work, sell work, get my work out there. So, I have to produce work of a certain quality, to a standard suitable for exhibition and sale. When I meet those standards then a work is, in a sense, finished but then it has to meet my own criteria too. I would not put work into the public sphere unless I had executed my ideas to my own satisfaction. For me, it is the truth of the execution of the idea which is the deciding factor.


And if a work emerges reluctantly or with questions as to its’ imperfection then this can be the impetus to start a new work that answers some of those questions.

(Since showing this piece in the MA students’ work-in-progress exhibition my attention has been drawn to the landscape art of Andy Goldsworthy.

hanging hole holbeck leeds andy goldsworthy

ANDY GOLDSWORTHY Hanging Hole, Holbeck, Leeds (May 1986) – sticks suspended in a tunnel opening.

I can see some similarities in the construction and material but Goldsworthy constructs his pieces with a different rationale responding to the landscape and his natural media in very site specific ways. His work is obviously mature and complete. I have some way to go in my development to approach the quality of his work.)

The show must go on

20th December 2015


(Nerve cells, computer artwork    SCIEPRO/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY)

Anna Chatwin and I have decided to bid for an exhibition slot in February/March. We share very personal interests in neurology and a preference for sculpture as our means of expression.

Both our work in progress presentations focused on different aspects of our experiences of neurological illness. I think our approaches are complimentary, similar in some ways but sufficiently different to be distinct. We can learn from one another and by working together.

We have  started developing ideas independently with a view to putting our ideas together in January and I think we will have several new pieces to show. At this stage I think I should narrow my own view for this exhibition and concentrate on one thing. The brain will be my prime subject. There is beauty in the brain’s complexity and even in it’s response to attack by disease.

Should the aesthetic aspects of neurons and nervous system be the only way I need to express myself? Other hidden sides need to be explored. Memory, self, identity and a host of symptoms invisible to everyone else deserve exploration.

I don’t want this to be negative though. I value the way other artists with MS, Elizabeth Jameson and Hannah Laycock in particular, have embraced, even celebrated, their condition. I suggested a title, SELF destruction, to Anna and she quickly threw it back and said it was too negative. I agree and we will come up with something more positive. We’ve both got lots of ideas and I can’t wait to see what we can do together.

What do you think?

11th December 2015

As part of the studio practice assessment each of us is asked to present examples of our work in progress to the other artists and the tutors. The second year MA and PhD students were first.

Much of my apprehension at opening my work up to scrutiny was quickly dispelled. The group listened attentively and offered positive comment and suggestions. There were carefully directed questions and constructive criticism. All in all it was not the frightening experience I expected.

So, soon it was my turn. I had prepared a few pictures, in sections relating to the three main strands of my art at the moment. These are MS/memory, Science and text/art. My tutor had suggested that I present on all three strands and, perhaps, ask the group for some help in finding a synthesis of the differing parts of my work.

The session started with almost inevitable technological difficulty. With a short delay, and with my tutor clicking images I needed, I launched into a summary of my work in progress.

Despite the technological hiccup, I felt comfortable and stress, which courtesy of MS can break up my speech, was largely absent. I whipped through the presentation, probably speaking too quickly. The questions and suggestions at the end were pretty helpful.

Someone proposed a link with medical imaging in the university to help visualise the brain and its activity. This is something I will have to explore in the new year. If I can work with the medics and access technology to provide material that will be great. A means by which to visualise the internal and invisible would be a new route to explore.

As part of my presentation I had prepared a couple of pieces. There was a question as to my apparent focus on producing ‘finished’ pieces. Perhaps I was neglecting ‘the process’ in favour of ‘product’?

I was puzzled by this question. On reflection I thought that the appearance of focus on complete work was because much of my preparation is internal and I have not shown sketches and models. But then are my supposed finished works really complete? They may have a veneer of polish but they are not exhibition ready.

That is one of my prime motivations for doing this MA. I want to exhibit and I want to produce art of scale, quality and coherence. It is important to me that my practice shows development towards these ends.

Which way now?

4th December 2015

Very interesting discussion in my tutorial on Tuesday. I’d acted on my tutor’s exhortation to get on with creating and ‘think through doing’. Made three pieces which illustrate three strands of my practice.

Memory flowers – part of my response to MS and more broadly to issues of neurological impairment. My tutor was interested in these and was positive about my use of ephemeral paper planes as metaphor for memory.

White hole – the science strand of my art. “Where’s the black one?” asked my tutor. Fair question and I think I will explore the darker partner piece, the negative, of the white vortex. Perhaps with white elements/contorted willow instead of black. Physics looms large in my mirror. It’s behind me but at the same time it’s an important part of my future.


The other strand is more current/contemporary. It stems from social media and the preponderance of image/text posts. Often these take the form of ‘motivational’ messages. They tend towards the banal and, while difficult to disagree with the sentiment, I baulk at the repetitive and relentless positivity. So, I looked at a host of these posts and inverted them literally and figuratively. A post such as ‘Shoot for the moon. If you miss you’ll end up in the stars’ becomes ‘Shoot for the moon. If you miss you’ll DIE IN OBLIVION’. I printed fifteen or so of these, simple text with certain, very negative, words highlighted and displayed them upside down. The term reverse psychology struck me and I used the title ‘Inverse psychology’ although, perhaps. ‘Perverse psychology’ is just as accurate.

In the section for action on the tutorial sheet we agreed that preparation for my work-in-progress presentation was a priority and that I should put the three strands of my practice up for inspection. It was also suggested that the group might also suggest ways in which the different themes might be combined or, perhaps they do not have common ground.

It will be interesting to hear how people respond to my ideas.

Sick or Science?

28th November 2015

What kind of artist am I?

This is a question which has been growing in my mind for a few weeks. Am I an abstract artist? Am I a conceptual artist? Am I an artist who draws on my scientific interests or who looks to my experience of MS? Or is there something else, some other category I belong in? Perhaps there is no pigeon-hole I sit comfortably in.

In my critical analysis I studied the link between art and science. The work of Julian Voss-Andreae and Antony Gormley on quantum physics interests me intensely. It is a subject with so many possibilities.

Left three images – JULIAN VOSS-ANDREAE (2006) Quantum Man. Single image on right – ANTONY GORMLEY (1999) Quantum Cloud

Cosmology is an inspiration too. The infinite. The unknown. The unknowable, but no less real and a subject I return to again and again.

Then of course there is MS. My condition has a dramatic effect on my life. It limits and, to a certain extent, describes me. I am an artist with a disability. There is no question that I express disability in my work but should I make it explicit? Artists such as Elizabeth Jameson and Hannah Laycock have been influential. Both have MS and explore elements of their condition in their practice.


ELIZABETH JAMESON (2012) Explorations (Estuary) – Coronal MRI view of the artist’s brain. Solarplate Etching on Paper.

Elizabeth Jameson uses MRI images of her brain and nervous system as source material for her art. She recognises the beauty in these images and celebrates this in her work.

HANNAH LAYCOCK (2012) Perceiving identity. Photograph. and (2015) Awakenings. Photograph.

Hannah Laycock uses her surreal photographs to document her search for understanding of Multiple Sclerosis. She looks at the definition of neurological impairment and the deficits and lack her symptoms entail.

I can really identify with Hannah Laycock’s visualisation of some of the invisible symptoms of MS. Cognitive fogging, being unable to think clearly, can be debilitating and frustrating. The image above encapsulates it perfectly. My own preoccupations with memory, loss and identity are my attempts to make apparent what is hidden.




Show what?

22nd November 2015, MA students Work-in Progress Exhibition

All of the MA students have been asked to put an item forward for exhibition in the department. It could be something finished or a work in progress but it should be something produced since the beginning of the course. It could be for display on the walls or in the cabinets on the landing in the Lindop building.

So, this puts me in a quandary, what do I submit for exhibition?


  • Inverse Psychology – small, printed, anti-motivation slogans. Mounted upside down and framed. By their nature and orientation these are meant as comment and critique of the fashion for bland, you-can-do-it posts on social media.
  • Feynman Bonding – diagrams based on the visual forms developed, by Richard Feynman, for particle interactions in quantum mechanics but adapted to represent personal/romantic interactions.Fig (v) Feynman bonding
  • Memory Flowers – floral forms constructed from paper planes, which I use as a metaphor for the ephemeral and fragile nature of thought/memory. I produced a first draft/model of this a few days ago so this is ready to show.20151117_135334
  • Every seven seconds or Nineteen times a day – visual representation of how often, on average, men think about sex. The first figure is apocryphal and the second based on research results at least. Could be part of a series based on men and women and the differing frequency of thoughts about sex, food and sleep.

These are possible pieces I could submit but which is the best representation of where I am artistically at the moment? There is the option of showing more work in a group exhibition later. Perhaps I just need to select one piece for this very short show.