It has been a while since I last posted on here. July was a very hot month, and the paint was drying before I could put it onto the canvas. August was better, but there was difficult family news in the middle of the month; my father’s older brother died. This brings up so many memories of former years, so many thoughts of those we have loved and lost. It takes a while to work through this and find a balance once more, and I am not sure I am quite there yet. We have lost several friends over the past few months, including my daughter’s PhD tutor, and this has hit us both very hard.
Rest in peace Doreen Hall, Professor Justin Champion, Tini Wilson and Uncle Bill; never to be forgotten. Prayers for them, their families and the many thousands of other innocent people caught up in this dreadful time.
However, there are at last some new works to post. As always you will find a more up to date listing on https://www.instagram.com/cathyafy , where I tend to post work as I finish it, or on https://www.facebook.com/Iconismus .
This website allows for a longer explanation of how I work and why I choose the images I do.
So, here is the first image to show you; the Little Rock Nine. This image is painted in acrylic on board, and shows the Little Rock Nine studying at home after being excluded from their new High School. I wanted it to be a message of hope and of the importance of education to broaden the mind and eliminate prejudice. I wanted this to be a study of nine ordinary students, who could be in any country, studying towards any exams. I wanted young people of any race, any religion, to know that they too can study and become the best version of themselves possible.
I worked from four different sets of photographs of the Little Rock Nine, all of which were in monochrome so I added the colours myself. The original background was a domestic setting which I thought of adding, but it made the image far too cluttered. Similarly, ideas of painting the school in the background were soon abandoned, and I opted for a plain pale gold, with the minimum of furniture showing; just enough for them not to be floating in mid air. I usually work on canvas and I find board to be more challenging because it tends to dry the paint much more quickly, resulting in a less even finish. This is fine for most of the subject but makes faces much more of a challenge.
Painting black people is particularly challenging for me because I am acutely aware of the need to personalise and humanise; to avoid caricature at all costs. These are individuals, with individual personalities, and I didn’t want to lose sight of that. In researching the people included in the image I found that many of them went on to have distinguished careers, which was most heartening; these were and are very brave people.
In the main photograph which I used one of the girls, Thelma, was facing away from the viewer, and I wanted to have all the faces either full or half profile, in line with the traditions of iconography. This differs from most iconography in having living subjects and in not having the names included on the image. As with my other work it is not signed on the front; I sign all my work on the reverse in pencil. Iconography is traditionally not about the artist but about the subject(s) of the image; the artist steps away into the background. The original image was not captioned so I had to work with several other sets of portraits of the nine to determine which was which. I hope I have them right:
The next new image is rather more traditional. It is an illustration of the meeting between Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich in 1413. This subject was suggested to me by a friend because it doesn’t exist as an icon and he thought it should.
I researched contemporary costume, and imagined Dame Julian wearing unbleached linen over a burlap tunic, rather than the more usual modern versions of her wearing a black nun’s habit or veil. Margery, on the other hand, is wearing her Sunday best, with a fine lace veil. When they met Margery was in her 40s and had had fourteen children, while Dame Julian was 30 years older. My originally drafted svelte figures had to broaden slightly to allow for their ages.
As is traditional with icons, the faces are shown in half profile denoting sanctity or at least goodness, and the names are included to prevent honouring the wrong person. Rather than looking towards us, the viewer, however, the ladies are looking towards one another; each learning something from the other’s example. We in turn can learn from both of them.
And here is another new saint come to visit. This is St Luke, from a fresco in the 4th century catacomb of Commodilla in Rome, which explains the Roman toga. I do love anachronistic costume in painting Biblical figures, not least because it reminds me that I am pretty well bound to dress up the stories I hear in my own version of anachronism.
I have painted Luke before, on wood panel after the Ranworth Rood Screen, but this is a far older image.
This picture struck me in particular because of the piercing eyes, which drew me to stop and consider what Luke might be saying to us today, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic; certainly it would include telling us to listen to the doctors. As you will know, St Luke was the writer of the second Gospel and perhaps of Acts as well, he was a friend of St Paul, and traditionally he was a physician and an artist. It is said that he painted the very first icon, of St Mary and the Christ child. I think Luke would be amazed that 2,000 years later so many people are sceptical of hard earned medical knowledge.
I also very much liked the scrip; the very modern looking red man-bag. I love to collect interesting hats and accessories in my work and have often painted a whole icon for the sake of a sandal or a hat.
So Luke makes a welcome addition to my collection of doctors and nurses, alongside John Snow, Florence Nightingale and many others.
This next image was a commission from someone who had been given some money for her birthday by her mother. We discussed possible images, and in the end chose one from a wall painting at Chapelle Notre-Dame de Benva, Lorgues.
This icon shows Ss Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus and friends of Jesus and echoes the icon of Margery and Dame Julian in having the two women looking towards one another.
And now to an image which was incredibly difficult to paint, which is why it is so small. This is 6 year old Salem Abdullah Musibih and his mother, from Hodaida, Yemen, painted from a photograph accompanying a newspaper article.
I painted this image in the style of a Theotokos, bearing in mind Matthew 25:40, which underpins much of my work and my faith:
A slightly easier image now.
This is some refugee girls in the Sudan, collecting water from a water station. I loved the vibrancy of this image, and found it an image of hope and inspiration. It also reminds me to be grateful for the running water to my home.
My own father was born in 1933 in a house without running water or electricity, in a pit village in Durham. There was a stand pipe in the back yard, and my Grandfather drilled a hole through the back kitchen wall and fitted a hose pipe from the stand pipe to the kitchen so that my Nana had running water inside her home. They used oil lamps at home.
The family moved to the council houses in 1939 when my father was 6. They were the last family to move before the war, and my dad said he used to stand and switch the electric lights on and off; he thought they were magical.
Far too often we forget just how new our own luxuries are, and to be grateful for them.
This little Francis I painted on canvas board and offered it to an online prayer group that I am a member of. I asked for nominations, and chose one person who was nominated by his mother to send it to. When she gave me the address I found that he lives less than 2 miles from the house where I was born, in Trimdon, Durham. That was quite the coincidence.
As a result of other nominations I also sent another picture to one other nominee, and I am painting two or three more.
Perhaps I won’t do this again; saying yes is easy. Deciding who not to choose is not.
And lastly, this little St Aidan on canvas board was another commission, from a woman who wanted to give a gift to her priest, who was moving to another church. He had asked her to give any gift as a contribution to his new church, so when she offered me money I said she should give it to the new church. That way everyone wins.
There is a very good reason why I will never be rich, but on the other hand, compared with most of the people I paint I already am.
St Aiden is looking directly at us as we look at him, in the fine tradition of iconography which regards an icon as a window into eternity. As we look at Aiden he is looking directly back at us.
I wonder what he would say, if he could? That is the challenge of an icon; how does it speak to me, here and now?
I hope you liked this collection of paintings. As you can see they seem quite disparate but I hope there is a thread running through all of them; of the importance of looking to the best of humanity as our guides and examples, and for each of us to strive to be the best version we can be of who we are. None of us can do everything but we can all do something, however small.
I paint because this is what is left to me to do. I used to work in Public Relations but have been unable to work for many years due to PTSD and DID. I am self employed and in theory I make a modest living from my work, but this has been particularly challenging this year. But I am still here, and I am still painting.
Thank you for visiting. God be with you.