the sins of the world …

February 10, 2012 § 1 Comment

Away from the Pod - during installation

Away from the Pod, currently installed within the Millennium Galleries, Sheffield, is the third of a series of ‘encounters’ with the scale of  life-sized cetaceans that I have attempted to realise through drawing. One of the great advantages of the Millennium Galleries is its inclusive ‘mall-like’ design that allows those with curiosity to see things in passing; and to draw them in through a form of cultural faire du lèche-vitrine …

I had a conversation with the writer Philip Hoare – author of the amazing Leviathan – not so long ago. We met in the cafe of the Natural History Museum, South Kensington – just a wall and a few meters separating us from the massive blue whale model that occupies the Whale Hall. We discussed, amongst other things, how we felt ourselves to be the first generation to have recognised and felt a connection with the great whales as something other – and so much more – than a source of industrial fats; about the iconic status of these animals that has passed through cliché and pastiche into positive reinvention by a new ‘post-nuke-the-baby-whales’ generation.

We also discussed my reasons for drawing life-sized cetaceans, for placing these impossible encounters into galleries (the new churches?) and (where possible) into deconsecrated spaces that still – albeit silently – echo the sacred.

We spoke about the history of representing animals, of notions of sacrifice and vessels for sin. These ideas have a clear and poignant resonance in the plight of the great cetacean apex predators; how their position at the top of the food chain means that they more or less literally Hoover up PCBs, heavy metals and other contaminants … how they have become living repositories, as it were, for the sins of the world.



October 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

Away from the Pod – line drawing

Away from the Pod – completed preliminary drawing

Preliminary drawing for ‘Away from the Pod’: a life-sized (5m x 1.5m) drawing of a killer whale which will feature as part of ‘Under the Sea’, an exhibition curated by Rowena Hamilton which opens in January 2012 at Millennium Galleries, Sheffield.

The title ‘Away from the Pod’ directly references ‘Away from the Flock’: a work by Damien Hirst from 1994 which features a lamb enclosed in a tank of formaldehyde.

The orca (Orcinus orca), less commonly known as the blackfish, is the largest species of dolphin. It lives in matrilineal groups. This means that both male and female offspring stay with the mother for the duration of her life, only breaking away from her to hunt and mate. Despite the fearsome nature of this ocean predator, there have been no observations of violence occurring within these close-knit and harmonious family groups. Beyond the family orcas form complex, cultural communities; they are highly communicative and they exhibit remarkable resourcefulness (for example recently developed sustainable fishing practices in the North Pacific have been quickly exploited by orcas who have fed well off fish-laden hooked lines).

The intention was to create a tight, confined graphic space for our orca, perhaps reminiscent of the solitary confinement within which captive members of the species live. The curved dorsal fin, bent to fit the dimensions of the drawing, is a symptom of captivity and is not found in wild killer whales.

Cetacean Subculture

October 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

‘Away from the Pod’, a life sized rendering of a killer whale and the first drawing for Origin011, is in the process of developing from a series of drawings entitled ‘Cetacean Subculture’.

Rowena Hamilton, curator at Museums Sheffield, has asked me to create a large scale drawing for a panel in the Millennium Galleries measuring 5m x 3.6m. My first task has been to identify a species that will fit into the panel – not an easy task bearing in mind the fact that most of the great whales measure in excess of 20m.

Research revealed that the Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), measures 2 to 4m in length and will thus fit the space of the drawing quite nicely at life-size.

I began work on three preliminary drawings of dolphins. The first, which I entitled ‘Goodbye And Thanks For All The Fish’, featured a dolphin fitted with a US navy surveillance device. I felt that there was something disturbingly perverse in this image – especially given the accounts that we have of dolphins in the wild acting in an apparently atruistic way towards drowning humans …

So Long And Thanks For All The Fish

In the second two drawings, again based on bottlenosed dolphins, I have dressed the cetaceans up in clown’s clothes. I am currently in the process of making a painting from the second, Harlequin, sketch – I feel that a colour treatment of this image will pack a much more powerful emotional punch.



I have also sketched a baby sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) in its mother’s womb. My intention was to imbue this image with a sense of our primordial mammalian kinship; the massive infant floating like a human baby in the same form of amniotic fluid, connected to its mother via the same umbilical cord …


The chosen image, however, is a life sized orca or killer whale (Orcinus orca); which I have drawn curled up into an area measuring 5m x 1.3m; a graphic space that only just contains its massive 6-8m form.

I will upload the finished preliminary drawing to my next blog post.

Away from the Pod

October 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

The first drawing for Origin011: a life sized rendering of an orca or killer whale and provisionally entitled ‘Away from the Pod’, has developed from a series of drawings entitled ‘Cetacean Subculture’.

After Rowena Hamilton, curator at Museums Sheffield, saw my drawing ‘Leviathan’, a life sized drawing of a sperm whale made for the x-church project space in Lincolnshire, I was asked to create another large scale drawing for a panel in the Millennium Galleries measuring 5m x 3.6m.

My first challenge was to identify a species that would fit on the panel. This has not been a completely straightforward task because most adult great whales measure in excess of 20m …

Leviathan, x-church project space, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, Darwin Day, 2009

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