Leaves Matthew Greenburgh
Detail of Tongued with Fire
Contents Introduction 5 Pictures 11 Sardanapalus Admetus Tongued with Fire Assumption Minelli/Falconer Child with Lamb Mejias Best Doctor Narcissus Musée des Beaux Arts Still Life with Fish I Still Life with Fish II St Peter Redcliffe Che Guevara Snow Crystals 1-VI Consequences Nought Vanitas Palliative Care Marching Figures
Text and Leaves pictures © 2015 Matthew Greenburgh. Other works, © of the copyright owner, acknowledged where possible.
Details at c.75% scale of:Tongued with Fire Marching Figures Palliative Care Sardanapalus Admetus Still Life with Fish I
12 14 16 18 20 22 24 26 28 30 32 34 36 38 40 42 44 46 48 50 52 Front cover 2 4 10 54 Back cover
Summary My pictures are large format photographs of arrangements of greatly enlarged autumn leaves. Leaves are at their most beautiful at the point at which they begin to decay and thus have a potent symbolic value in the contemplation of issues faced at the end of life. The pictures reference other works of art that are relevant to this subject. By making these connections, I aim to explore with my pictures the beauty that can sometimes be associated with death and the presence of death in beauty. I also seek to explore some of the means by which one work of art can be derived from another. Above all, I hope that the pictures strike the viewer as being beautiful in a surprising way.
Background Beauty, death, their presence in each other and in the everyday: this timeless theme was approached in a new and compelling way by the Dutch still life painters at the beginning of the 17th century. The new approach was to use everyday objects as impactful rather than subtle symbols and to generate astonishing verisimilitude. The intention was to attract the viewer’s attention and turn it into a profound contemplation of the underlying theme. The effect is seen most obviously in the explicit Vanitas paintings of skulls, candles, timepieces etc. It is also present in the generally more sophisticated still life paintings of the period with disarranged glassware, flowers and fruit and fading light. These elements combine to generate an appreciation of natural beauty and human skill, and of the ultimate futility of that beauty and skill given the certain intrusion of death.
Still Life with Bouquet and Skull, Adriaen van Utrecht, c1642
Still Life with Glass and Silver Bowl, Willem Claesz, 1630
Dutch still life painting has proved directly influential with many modern photographers. Part of the connection is the still life painters' emphasis on lighting and their de-emphasis of visible brushwork in the search for surface realism, which is seemingly the natural province of photography. There are numerous photographic artists who have been inspired by Dutch still life from the ‘faithful’ recreations of Sharon Core, Bas Meeuws, Paulette Tavormina and many others to the shattered mirrors and explosions of Ori Gersht.
1635, Sharon Core, 2011 © the artist
It would be wrong to associate beauty with tragic, premature or unexpected death. However, unlike in the 16th century, death in affluent modern societies arguably often comes too late rather than too suddenly. Medical intervention increasingly is seen to drag out the sometimes miserable last years of the dementia sufferer, the terminally ill or the physically incapacitated. Some faced with such a prospect see an absence of anything worth living for (metaphorically an absence of beauty) and would like to choose an assisted death or voluntary euthanasia. Other, perhaps more 'classical', choices that might lead to a death with beautiful aspects include: the hero’s self-sacrifice, the seeker after glory, death caused by sybaritic excess, and death to avoid sin and achieve certainty of heaven. I hope that my pictures are a springboard for the consideration of the way in which death and beauty can be intertwined in these circumstances. The reddish colour palette of the autumn leaf and the decay seen when viewed up-close are full of appropriate associations: blood, fire, rust, hell etc. Leaves also have the interesting feature that their beauty seems to have no evolutionary purpose, which is perhaps the case in a personally chosen death.
On Reflection, Fusion J03, Ori Gersht, 2014 © the artist
Objectives My first objective has been to remain true to what I see as the essence of the original Dutch treatment of death and beauty with a modernised way of doing so which hopefully refreshes the contemporary viewer’s interest. My approach is to take greatly enlarged (‘macro’) photographs of autumn leaves: I seek to grab the viewer’s attention and encourage his/her contemplation by using the leaves as impactful rather than subtle symbols and by using extreme scale as well as detail. The beauty displayed by autumn leaves en masse is still arresting even though very familiar. When studied closely the beauty of certain individual autumn leaves can be just as great and less familiar. The fact that the moment of greatest beauty and of death coincide make these leaves a particularly effective symbol.
Whilst I intend my symbolism to be a modern extrapolation from that of the Dutch still life, I also aim to modernise their other method of attention-grabbing by adding scale to hyper-realism. In achieving verisimilitude, the input of the photographer personally is vanishingly small compared to that of the early Dutch still life masters. The representational painter of course depends on his training etc but generally the dependence of the photographer on equipment made by others is much greater. Although the viewer is therefore less likely to be intrigued purely by the quality of the reproduction, there are recent developments in digital sensors and in software that have enabled the creation of much larger sharp images, and which do have the capacity to impress. Indeed, in the right hands, the surprise caused by large scale works has been an important element in modern photography . For example, an Andreas Gursky 300x150cm photograph creates the sensation for the viewer of ‘being there’ whilst seeing with a new vision in a way that no 25x20cm print of Ansel Adams can. But these large format images are still smaller than the portrayed object. A different kind of surprise can be obtained by macro-photography where the subject is enlarged many times. However, macro-photography is often considered to be more of a circus trick; or at best a semi-scientific exploration, creating a surprise or horror at, for example, the insect’s jaws or hairy legs that displaces any artistic element. I use macro-photography in a more conceptual way to bring out the abstract quality of the leaves’ patterns and colours at an unusual but not alarming scale and thereby encourage the viewer to look beyond the familiar response to this familiar object.
Finally, each of my pictures are directly related to one or more prior works of art – sometimes an Old Master, sometimes another photograph, sometimes a work of literature. I explain how each of my pictures is connected to the earlier work of art in the Pictures section below. I aim to use the connection to bring out an aspect of my overall theme of beauty in death and death in beauty. In addition, I want to explore the extent to which it is indeed possible to give a picture meaning in an explicit way. Some of the connections might seem tenuous: where this is the case I hope they are seen as part of a post-modernist game and not taken too seriously.
I need to take care over lighting the subject in order to achieve a relatively flat light. I believe this increases the sense of abstraction. The remarkable lighting in the finest Dutch still life has a symbolic purpose but is also there to parade the skill of the artist and would be a distraction in the context of my pictures.
The autumn leaves with greatest and most appealing individual variation that I have found tend to be from sumach (straight and cut leaved variety), Japanese maple (the species works better than any variety I have come across) and liquidambar, although some other types of maple, some types of American oaks, and dogwood can also produce good effects. I dry the leaves otherwise they tend to reflect light too strongly; I use different drying processes to vary the degree of flatness and curl in the resultant leaves.
There is a fair amount of post-production work in terms of: (a) colour management; (b) patching up areas where the computer stitching is inaccurate (this occurs because the end of the lens is so close to the subject a parallax effect is created when the subject is relatively ‘deep’); and (c) ‘cutting out’ the images and placing them on a black background to increase the sense of abstraction (a few are on an earth background but this has been extended across the frame in post-production). The effect of the large size of the files on computer speed makes all of this time-consuming work even slower.
I find on the whole the leaves are the most photogenic when they retain some element of fading green, showing the transition from life to death. Equally, I want to have a quota of brown spots and fringes as I believe the beauty is made more poignant in contrast to the effects of decay. They are also a nod to the inescapable presence of digital manipulation – even if some real flaws remain it doesn’t mean that the photograph represents the truth.
The prints are made on Hahnemühle Baryte Fine Art paper, backed by aluminium, available behind acrylic sheets (DIASEC). The larger sizes of each picture come in an edition of four (plus artist’s proof) and the smaller versions, in editions of five. Each picture has a certificate, signed and numbered, on the back. There will be no other printed editions of the pictures (other than uncertificated copies that appear, for example, in this or similar publications).
In order to get enlargements of some 10-20 times the size of the actual leaves I use a 150mm macro lens, which enables the camera to focus whilst close (around 10cm) to the subject. Because the camera is so close, however, the depth of field is small compared to the thickness of the subject. This means that multiple shots are required of the same part of the subject, each at incremental focus points. I normally have 20-30 taken in this way (I use the passive, as the camera is tethered to the computer which adjusts the focus). Fewer could be taken if the aperture of the lens is reduced but this would increase diffraction/reduce sharpness – the ideal aperture is f8. These photographs are then ‘stacked’ by the computer, which takes only those parts of each photograph which are in focus and adds them together to make a single sharp picture of part of the subject. This process is repeated to cover the whole surface/horizontal area of the subject. Depending on its size, I may need to photograph up to 20 separate parts of the whole area of the subject (each with
20-30 ‘vertically’ stacked photographs). The horizontal areas taken need to overlap, as a separate computer programme will stitch them together to form one large photograph (in similar fashion to the panoramas taken by your smart-phone). The files underlying each final photograph containing the full set of up to 400+ photographs can be over 50GB. The final picture could contain over 300 mega-pixels - only with this many pixels can a high quality print be achieved at the requisite scale.
Pictures The light reflected off small dead leaves made beautiful by an accident of chemistry and human consciousness and collected and manipulated by the genius of modern technology is, I believe, a potent force for the exploration of beauty and death. As explained above, I intend the pictures as a whole to have an underlying aesthetic drawn from Dutch still life in a modernised form. However, each individual picture refers to a work of art from differing periods, styles and media, and examines a different aspect of the theme of death and beauty. The pictures and their references are set out in the next section. The idea of and response to beauty and death has changed considerably over the last 500 years, but interest in their relationship
remains deep-seated: I hope my leaves will facilitate a fresh way for the modern viewer to contemplate this changed relationship.
This 'morphed' version of the two shows their geometric relationship.
In attempting to relate my pictures to these other works of art and thereby draw out the overall theme, I also hope to provoke a more general consideration of photographic conceptual artâ€™s use of scale, symbolism, technology and abstraction. The derivation of each of my pictures is described in more detail in the next section. In general, I choose the source material for its pertinence to an aspect of the theme of death and beauty. My picture, which itself contains death and beauty in its autumn leaves, is sometimes related to its source through a broad geometric relationship; for example, in The Best Doctor: source picture:
In other pictures, the relationship is less simple, as can be seen in this merging of my Sardanapalus with its Delacroix source:
The Best Doctor, Alfred Kubin, 1903
In cases where the source is literary, sometimes it is an apposite metaphor that provides the connection or sometimes it is an aspect of the narrative.
The Best Doctor, Matthe
The Best Doctor, Matthew Greenburgh, 2015
Whilst the connections are referred to in the titles, they are in most cases somewhat obscure. We all know how irritating some curators' labels can be but many works of art seem to make little sense without them - does this diminish the merit of the piece or give it depth? Whilst I hope my pictures can stand alone as images, I also want to see the extent to which it is valid to include the explanations as part of the works of art. If this is too pedagogic then please do treat the titles and explanations purely as parody and focus on the pictures as Still Life with Leaves 1 to 26.
Sardanapalus Cut leaf staghorn sumach – Rhus typhina ‘Laciniata’ 234x156cm - edition of 4 plus artist's proof 117x78cm - edition of 5
The leaves lie broadly in the pattern of the bodies in Delacroix’s glorious painting, The Death of Sardanapalus. I am also referring to Jeff Wall’s photograph, “The Destroyed Room”, which itself was inspired by the Delacroix. The fantasy of Sardanapalus’ orgiastic life and extravagant suicide (he is having all his possessions and concubines thrown on the pyre) represented in the Delacroix painting is deeply disturbing – this is echoed in the apparent relish with which Delacroix has created his picture and in the violence implicitly acted out by Wall.
The Death of Sardanapalus, Eugène Delacroix, 1827
Delacroix’s painting was triggered by Byron’s play of the same name – Byron gives Sardanapalus a more heroic suicide, involving only one concubine and permitting his followers to escape. Perhaps each artist interpreted the story to suit his own medium. I hope to allude to different aspects of these works: the aesthetic of the Delacroix, the self-awareness of the Wall and the fatalistic elements of the Byron
The Destroyed Room, Jeff Wall, 1978 © the artist
Admetus Cut leaf staghorn sumach - Rhus typhina ‘Laciniata’ 175x110cm - edition of 4 plus artist's proof 88x55cm - edition of 5
In Euripides’ play Alcestis, Admetus is given a reprieve from death providing someone will die in his place. Ademetus asks his elderly father but he refuses. So Alcestis, Admetus' wife, chooses to be the one to die. Ademetus is furious with his father and the play contains a fantastic row between them. This barrage from Admetus gives a flavour: “How insincere they are, these prayers for death voiced by the elderly, these complaints they make against old age and the tedious passing of the years! If death draws near, not one of them wants to die; old age is suddenly a burden that weighs lightly on their shoulders.” The issues brought out in the row between Admetus and his father are relevant to the pressures that opponents of assisted dying believe could be brought to bear on the elderly. Unusually for a Greek tragedy, the heroine is in fact quickly brought back from death and Admetus is not punished for his unfilial behaviour. My picture follows the basic structure of Peyron’s painting of Admetus at Alcestis’ death bed, which appropriately has some magnificent autumn colours.
The Death of Alceste or The Heroism of Conjugal Love (detail), Pierre Peyron, 1785
Tongued with Fire Cut leaf staghorn sumach - Rhus typhina ‘Laciniata’ 200x115cm - edition of 4 plus artist's proof 100x58cm - edition of 5
“And what the dead had no speech for, when living, They can tell you, being dead: the communication Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.” from Little Gidding, T.S. Eliot, 1942 My goal is to convey visually (ie “beyond language”) a similar feeling to that produced by Eliot’s musings on death and beauty. Autumn leaves are used explicitly in a number of poems in the context of death and I hope that this and some of my other pictures can act as visual metaphors for these poetic images: "Every October it becomes important, no, necessary to see the leaves turning, to be surrounded by leaves turning; it’s not just the symbolism, to confront in the death of the year your death, one blazing farewell appearance, though the irony isn’t lost on you that nature is most seductive when it’s about to die, flaunting the dazzle of its incipient exit, [...]” from Leaves, Lloyd Schwartz, 1941 and this: "My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new. Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame. What I must do Is live to see that. That will end the game For me, though life continues all the same: Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes, A final flood of colours will live on As my mind dies, Burned by my vision of a world that shone So brightly at the last, and then was gone." from Japanese Maple, Clive James, 2014 Poems opposite © the respective poets or their estates
Assumption Japanese maple - Acer palmatum 120x231cm- edition of 4 plus artist's proof 60x116cm - edition of 5
The Assumption of the Virgin is a popular choice for artists as a powerful way of conveying the beauty of death for the sinless: the prospect of Heaven should mitigate the effect of the suffering experienced in life. I also want the title to point to the dual meaning of the word assumption: the Christian view of death depends on the assumption, inter alia, that there is a God in Heaven. Assumption paintings were a good way of filling a vertical space behind an altar and I have adopted the upward rising flow of an Assumption painting. I also hope, through the minimalist style, lacquer-like look and Japanese maple leaves, to make a connection with Japanese Buddhism's assumptions about what can happen after death. Simplifying greatly, there is a prospect of a heaven-like destination (the Pure Land) but the ultimate objective is to achieve Nirvana where any sense of self is quenched.
The Assumption of the Virgin, Nicolas Poussin , c1632
Maple Leaves, Shibata Zeshin, 19th century
Minelli (left hand side) Staghorn sumach - Rhus typhina 78x200cm - edition of 4 plus artist's proof 39x100cm - edition of 5
Falconer (right hand side) Staghorn sumach - Rhus typhina 75x200cm - edition of 4 artist's proof 38x100cm - edition of 5
Ludwig Minelli is the founder of Dignitas. Lord Falconer (unsuccessfully) introduced the first Assisted Dying Bill in the UK. This picture seems to me in part like a hero’s shield on a medieval tomb or in a history painting. I intend it to be a kind of homage. An extract from a letter to The Times during the failed re-introduction of a Bill similar to Falconer’s puts the case succinctly: “Reform of the law on assisted dying is long overdue if we wish to retain our claim of being a civilised society. Having recently been through the legally available method when attempting to achieve a good death for a loved relative in the UK, I know that the present process delivers an extended, tormenting and undignified end. The existing route of withdrawal of supporting treatments leaves the individual to die by sequential organ failure due to imposed dehydration; this is a highly unpleasant and inhumane process for all involved. A civilised society would clearly give better legal options and improve the present barbaric practice.” (My bold italics) However, if you view either of them as facilitating ‘self-murder’ then perhaps you can see this picture as a blood soaked dagger.
Child with Lamb Cut leaf staghorn sumach - Rhus typhina ‘Laciniata’ 70x101cm - edition of 4 plus artist’s proof 42x61cm - edition of 5
I came across the photograph opposite (by Andre Kertesz) in John Berger’s essay “The Enigma of Appearances”. Berger argues that it is an exploration of touch – the soft fleece and prickly stubble – and of the paradox of using a flat image in that way. That is a convincing insight, but my personal response is still dominated by the picture's more obvious extreme charm and the poignant sensations that induces – the destiny of the (any) child is indicated by the lamb soon to be slaughtered and the field recently cut.
Boy and Lamb, Andre Kertesz, 1917
I have two adjacent main subjects like the Kertesz, with a nod to the point made by Berger in the spikier leaves in the bottom and the texture of the paper behind the leaves . This theme appears throughout art history – another fine example is by Jacopo Bassano (opposite below).
Summer (Sacrifice of Isaac), Jacopo Bassano, c1575
Mejias Liquidambar styraciflua 140x150cm - edition of 4 plus artist’s proof 70x75cm - edition of 5
The Lorca poem "Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias" is about a matador gored to death by the bull – the yellow and red tinged leaf is suggestive of the glamorous bull fighter as well as his “blood spilled on the sand” and the dark leaf brings to mind the bull and death. The poem provides a contrast to my main theme as it depicts Lorca’s extreme grief for his heroic friend who was dramatically killed at the prime of his life (as the poem repeats insistently “at 5 o’clock in the afternoon”). Lorca’s grief is not lessened by the fact that Mejias had an “appetite for death, pleasure in its savour”. But had Mejias died after a long stay in a care home, one doubts the poet’s inspiration would have been as strong. I have also tried to include element’s of Terry Frost’s fine print illustrating the same poem, which is a great example of how the abstract and the narrative can work together.
Lament for Ignacio Sanchez Mejias, Sir Terry Frost, 1989 ©the estate of Sir T Frost
The Best Doctor Cut leaf staghorn sumach - Rhus Typhina ‘Laciniata’ 124x82cm - edition of 4 plus artist’s proof 62x41cm - edition of 5
The image of a doctor upright over a dying or dead body has been produced by a number of great artists, including Rembrandt - (see the section on "Che Guevara" below) and Goya (opposite). In some cases, such as the Rembrandt, the doctor is a scientific hero, in others, such as the Goya, a destructive fool. The next picture opposite is by Alfred Kubin (1877-1959) who was known as the Austrian Goya. This is more ambiguous but none the less powerful. Kubin’s drawings and writing of nightmare visions emanating from the sub-conscious were highly admired by influential contemporaries, including Jung and Kandinsky, around the turn of the 20th century. Although the face of Death as the doctor is horrific, there is enough in Kubin’s picture (eg the calm, religious pose of the dying person, the sensual figure of the doctor and the title itself) to convey the possibility of death as a relief.
Of what ill will he die?, Francisco Goya, 1799
My picture follows broadly the geometry of the upright doctor over the prone patient that is common to this genre and is so striking in the Kubin..
The Best Doctor, Alfred Kubin, 1903
126x180cm - edition of four plus artist’s proof 63x90cm - edition of 5
This picture is of the two sides of one leaf and hence represents a kind of reflection. Narcissus’ death through vanity seems to be a highly appropriate topic within my overall theme. Leon Alberti wrote in the 15th century that Narcissus was the founder of painting (“the flower of the arts”): “What is painting but the act of embracing with art that which is presented on the surface of a pool?”. Art as the mirror of nature seems to have been a core belief of the Dutch still life masters. Whilst painting has of course developed in many different directions since then, the phrase is an appropriate description of much photographic art.
Narcissus, Caravaggio, c.1597-99
Musée des Beaux Arts Cut leaf staghorn sumach - Rhus typhina 'Laciniata' 150x160cm - edition of 4 plus artist’s proof 84x90cm - edition of 5
Any Musée des Beaux Arts will of course have at least a few Dutch still lives. But I am thinking in particular of Brussels and W.H. Auden’s wonderful poem about Pieter Breughel the Elder’s wonderful painting of Icarus. In my picture, leaves like feathers and a sun shape suggest this subject: an inglorious death of the most spectacular kind which has little impact on the rest of the world. The Auden-Breughel ‘pairing’ is a deeply thought-provoking view of death and its depiction and adds an extra dimension to the motif of fatal vanity (see "Narcissus"). "About suffering they were never wrong, The old Masters: how well they understood Its human position: how it takes place While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along; How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting For the miraculous birth, there always must be Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating On a pond at the edge of the wood: They never forgot That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse Scratches its innocent behind on a tree. In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on." Musée des Beaux Arts, W.H. Auden, 1940 ©Estate of W.H. Auden
The Fall of Icarus, attr. Pieter Breughel the Elder, c1560
Still Life with Fish I Staghorn sumach - Rhus typhina 231x117cm - edition of 4 plus artistâ€™s proof 116x59m - edition of 5
Fish in Dutch still life are fairly common, although the Clara Peeters opposite is untypical in its simplicity and as such is the starting point for mine. Fish in still lifes in some cases originally have a Christian connection (more because the Greek word for fish, ichtus, is an acrostic for the Trinity than because of the fishing apostles or the miracle with the fish and loaves). However, their presence is often a metaphorical joke on the limits of hyper-realism: however brilliantly the artist can depict the glistening scales he/she cannot reproduce the smell of the dead fish. Still Life with Fish and a Lemon, Clara Peeters, fl. 1607-1621
Still Life with Fish II Staghorn sumach - Rhus typhina 140x250m - edition of 4 plus artistâ€™s proof 70x125cm - edition of 5
See Still Life with Fish I
Fish, midC17th, Johannes Fabritius
St. Peter Red oak - Quercus rubra 120x200cm - edition of 4 plus artistâ€™s proof 60x100cm - edition of 5
St Peter chose to be crucified upside-down so as not to mimic Jesus. There are many outstanding paintings of this, often showing great genius in the depiction of the complex forms involved. In my picture, I want to bring out the single-minded determination behind St Peter's decision in the face of such an horrendous death. As an atheist, the lesson I take is to try to plan one's own final moments, if at all possible.
Crucifixion of St Peter, Guido Reni, 1605
Redcliffe Japanese maple - Acer palmatum 128x300cm - edition of 4 plus artist’s proof 64x150cm - edition of 5
“The Heir to Redcliffe” by Charlotte Younge is a compelling Victorian novel in part about the Christian notion that death at the right time is to be welcomed because it presents a clear route to heaven before the soul has been tarnished. This book more than any other made, me appreciate how beautiful in many respects it must actually be to have real faith in a community of ‘true’ believers. The connection with my picture (other than red in the title) is that the book has three main protagonists whose characters/ souls are broadly represented by the leaves – any further explanation would be a spoiler and I don’t want to prevent you from enjoying this excellent book: full of wit, insight and intelligence.
Che Guevara Staghorn sumach - Rhus typhina 39x70cm - edition of 6 plus artist’s proof
The photograph opposite of Che Guevara’s dead body is the starting point for my picture. John Berger in his essay “Image of Imperialism” has compared it with paintings by Rembrandt and Mantegna (opposite) to show how the intended propaganda of the photograph is subverted.
Untitled by anonymous photographer, 1967
Berger claims that “in certain rare cases the tragedy of a man’s death completes [...] the meaning of his whole life” and “..this photograph [...] is an image which, as much as any mute image ever can, calls for decision”. This decision, Berger argues, is to follow Guevara’s creed: “Wherever death may surprise us, let it be welcome, provided that this, our battle-cry may have reached some receptive ear and another hand may be extended to wield our weapons” in the revolutionary fight against imperialism. Whatever one may think of his politics (not that Berger did die in the revolutionary cause), Berger's engagement with the connections between death as a choice, painting and photography is compelling.
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1631
Lamentation of Christ, Andrea Mantegna, c1480
Snow Crystals I-VI Japanese maple - Acer palmatum 50x45cm - edition of 4 plus artist’s proof of each 25x23cm - edition of 5
William Bentley photographed over 5,000 snowflakes in upstate New York between 1885 and 1931, when many of them were published in a book, Snow Crystals, a picture from which is opposite. The seemingly endless variety of snowflake, together with their potency as symbols for the evanescence of life is my excuse for connecting these leaf pictures with Bentley’s extraordinary lifetime’s work. from Snow Crystals, William Bentley, c1931
Consequences Japanese maple - Acer palmatum 55x34cm - edition of 4 plus artistâ€™s proof 28x17m - edition of 5
St George and the Dragon, Paolo Ucello, 1470
This picture arose as a consequence of mistaken inputs to the programme which stitches my underlying pictures together into a kind of panorama. As they were not deliberate, I can place the picture in the school of contemporary art that makes randomness, chance and/or accident a key ingredient.
The Punishment of Tityus, Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1532
There are a host of fine pictures with winged dragons, aggressive eagles, or fantastic monsters associated with death that my picture could claim as an influence, a few of which are opposite. The most appropriate for me is the last one below: The Consequences by Goya. Alternatively, perhaps it could be of a hang-glider seeking excitement at the risk of death.
The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun, William Blake, c1808
Las Resultas, Francisco Goya, c1815
Nought Various leaves, crushed 110x110cm - edition of 4 plus artist’s proof 55x55cm - edition of 5
For the atheist, a wreath shape could denote the belief that nothing follows death and indeed perhaps that nothing of meaning precedes it. Irrespective of belief: “Time, the prime minister of Death! There's nought can bribe his honest will” from Death by John Clare 1793-1864
Vanitas Various leaves, crushed 80x99cm - edition of 4 plus artistâ€™s proof 40x50cm - edition of 5
The Vanitas picture is still alive and well after 400 years. Vanitas Still Life, Jacques de Gheyn II, 1603
Skulls, Andy Warhol, 1976 ÂŠ The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts
Palliative Care Japanese maple - Acer palmatum 130x147m - edition of 4 plus artistâ€™s proof 65x74m - edition of 5
Most people giving palliative care are, of course, highly professional and can normally be effective. But the legal restrictions placed on them can result in pain and indignity for some dying patients and anguish for their families. The image conjured up for me by these powerless patients is connected to the descent into hell on the last judgement day. I have tried to echo this style of painting in my picture.
The Last Judgement (detail), Hans Memling, c1571
The Last Judgement (detail), Jacob de Backer, c1580
Marching Figures Cut leaf staghorn sumach - Rhus typhina 'Laciniata' Japanese maple - Acer palmatum 140x114cm - edition of 4 plus artistâ€™s proof 70x57cm - edition of 5
The starting point for my picture is the Francis Bacon, opposite. On one level the Bacon is perhaps suggesting soldiers going to war commanded by a dictator. But more generally, it conveys a sense of the irresistible march of life towards death. It is to this sense that I want to allude in my picture.
Untitled (Marching Figures), Francis Bacon, c1952 ÂŠ The Estate of Francis Bacon
Published on Oct 24, 2015