Sunday, 15 February 2009

Jesus

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When I was a teenager I presented my mother with a framed picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which I had found at St Joseph's Catholic Church Repository on Highgate Hill, London. She kept it by her bedside for the rest of her days. A photograph of this picture appears immediately below. When my mother died I felt the same attachment for it she had felt. It now hangs on a wall close to my own bed. My portrait in oils of Jesus drew inspiration from the feeling derived from this old Catholic image.





Working on an early version of the portrait in the garden at my retreat.
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Saturday, 14 February 2009

Sarah

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And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,

So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,

The smiles that win, the tints that glow,

But tell of days in goodness spent,

A mind at peace with all below,

A heart whose love is innocent!


The oil painting I feel best captures her can be viewed by clicking on any of the above.
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Friday, 13 February 2009

Self-Portrait

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Title: The Artist as a Young Man circa 2013 (second impression).
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Adversary

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You see I am vanity personified.
I'm a finger of the Devil's pride.
I am the Devil tried.
The Devil's Fool you are,
No matter how you shout
Your avowals to start again.
The Devil you acquires
With vain conceits that steadily eat your soul
As worms quilt the body's fodder which is your end.
Unless you realise in heart and mind that as you are
You're the Devil's coal ready to burn to ash ...
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Episcopus

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I drew inspiration for this portrait of a deceased bishop principally from the Capuchins' Catacombs located in Palermo, Italy, where there are thousands of corpses lined on the walls like paintings. The catacombs date back to 1599 when the local priests mummified Br Silvestro from Gubbio. The last religious to be interred was Br Riccardo of Palermo in 1871. Rosalia Lombardo was one of the last lay corpses to be received into the catacombs before the local authorities discontinued the practice. Rosalia died circa 1920 and quickly became known as the "Sleeping Beauty." Her sister and family frequently visited her coffin after her death. Some of the corpses have long ago lost their flesh and are skeletons. Others have flesh, hair and eyes. All are dressed in clothes from the period in which they lived. Several of the corpses appear as if "screaming" from the dead. Some have body parts which have fallen off over the years. The catacombs are divided into men, women, virgins, children, priests, monks and professionals. The professionals' section contains the bodies of professors, doctors, lawyers, painters, officers and soldiers of the Bourbon and Italian army. Among the famous names are those of the painter Velasquez, the sculptors Filippo Pennino and Lorenzo Marabitti and the surgeon Salvatore Manzella. These bodies, some preserved while others are in stages of decomposition, remain with us and on view. Their souls, however, have long since departed to God and to a better world. In this eerie place you can actually sense that.




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Thursday, 12 February 2009

Lilian

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Lilian converted to Catholicism in 1989. She had previously been a nursing-home employee. The Archdiocese of Ottawa, Ontario, where she then lived, established a commission to investigate her claims of stigmatism. The Roman Catholic Church often resists publicity regarding supernatural claims, notes the Reverend Thomas Reese (a Jesuit priest who edits the weekly Catholic magazine America). Lilian first exhibited stigmata during Easter 1992, the year my mother died, having previously received visions of Jesus. According to one of her two booklets, published in 1999, Jesus appears frequently to her, addressing her as "My suffering soul," "My sweet petal," and "My child." When asked about cross-shaped wounds (she has an apparent cruciform scar on her right jaw near the ear), she stated in 2002 that such stigmata were of the Devil, that before her genuine stigmata came she had periods of possession. Her wounds are to the backs of the hands and tops of the feet, in addition to small wounds on the scalp representing a crown of thorns (John 19: 2). When attempting this challenging portrait I also drew inspiration from the German stigmatic Theresa Neumann (1898-1962) who allegedly lived solely on the Holy Eucharist from 1925 and bled from both her eyes and bore a big stain on her right shoulder where the Cross would have been carried by Our Lord. A case for the beatification of Theresa Neumann was introduced on 13 February 2005 by Bishop Gerhard Ludwig Muller, Bishop of Regensburg, Germany. Ana Luz Hernández, another inspiration for my canvas, is a stigmatic marked with wounds on the forehead. Reported cases of stigmata take various forms. Many show some or all of the five Holy Wounds that were, according to the Bible, inflicted on Jesus during His crucifixion: wounds in the hands and feet, from nails, and in the side, from a lance. Some stigmatics display wounds to the forehead similar to those caused by the crown of thorns. Other reported forms include tears of blood or sweating blood, wounds to the back as from scourging, or wounds to the shoulder as from bearing the Cross.


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Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Elżbieta

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"On Wednesday evening I tried, as gently as possible, to confront Elizabeth with the notion that some force, of which her conscious mind is not aware or refuses to be aware, is controlling her actions for part of the time; in fact, the fight between the two forces is visible in her gestures and actions. Somewhere, very close to her conscious mind, she knows that something of this is true, but the full horror of the situation is too much for her to accept at the moment. The result is that she runs when anything nasty presents itself ― this gives the dark side its chance to take over. On Wednesday, after this confrontation, she ran out into the night. I followed and eventually found her outside the gate of the cemetery at the top of Swains Lane. She was staring through the iron rails as if in a trance ..." ― Keith (quoted from The Highgate Vampire, p. 57).


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Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Keith

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This portrait of Keith indicates the trauma of the aftershock from experiences relating to Elizabeth (and, of course, Highgate Cemetery) decades earlier. It is the first oil painting of a series, culminating with the picture immediately below which shows Keith, as he looks today, standing alongside the final canvas.


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“In 1968, I heard first-hand of such a sighting and my informant maintained that he and his companions had secreted themselves in one of the vaults and watched a dark figure flit among the catacombs and disappear into a huge vault from which the vampire, ghost or whatever it may have been, did not reappear. Subsequent search revealed no trace inside the vault but I was told that a trail of drops of blood stopped at an area of massive coffins which could have hidden a dozen vampires. Other reports in 1968 and 1969 told of a similar figure visiting graves and appearing and disappearing in circumstances that ruled out the possibility of the figure being human. A motorist whose car broke down near one of the cemetery gates reported seeing ‘something’ peer at him through the iron gates. He could not believe that it had been anything human. His recollection of the ‘thing’ that looked at him was of staring eyes and white teeth disclosed by what he described as a snarl.” ― Peter Underwood, The Vampire’s Bedside Companion (1975), p. 76.



Keith at London's Highgate Cemetery during the time of Elizabeth's nightly visitations toward the end of the 1960s.


Monday, 9 February 2009

Katrina

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My portrait of Katrina seeks to capture her social standing (the daughter of landed gentry), intelligence and wit. Humour is an important component for anyone. Where an abudance of time is spent in that person's company it is absolutely essential. Katrina's wit is innate, spontaneous and intellectually sharp. She speaks openly and honestly; a quality I greatly appreciate.



The other quality I appreciate, above all else, is loyalty. Katrina, since our becoming acquainted many years ago, has exhibited an abundance of faithfulness as a trusted friend and colleague. She was a teenager and about to sign up with a major model agency when we first met. Later she became my personal assistant. I greatly value her support and genuine comradeship. Below is a picture of our arrival at a venue where the dress code, as happened more frequently in those days, was formal.

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Sunday, 8 February 2009

Anthony

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Anthony, the subject in the above portrait, was employed in my darkroom at the time I had a photographic studio. He revealed to me soon after we had met that he believed in the Devil because he had seen the Evil One’s form manifest in cigarette smoke inside the darkroom of another establishment where he had previously worked. This was before I became acquainted with him. His peripheral immersion in the bizarre later brought him into proximity of certain events at Highgate, and he was to become socially acquainted with a man who tried to insinuate himself into the cemetery goings-on with disastrous consequences. By which time, having left my employ in 1968 to elope with a barmaid, I saw next to nothing of Anthony.

Anthony's interest in the weird waned and dissolved over following decades. He also became seemingly sceptical in retrospect about his past experiences with séances and the like. He explained away his vision of the Devil as being nothing more than a face he saw in cigarette smoke while smoking cannabis, a practice he later abandoned. His first marriage ended in divorce and, together with his next wife, he eventually went to live abroad. In the new century, however, he has been invited to reunions with other distant and old acquaintances. The photograph was taken at one such occasion. He can be seen standing next to his portrait which I (out of shot) am holding.
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Saturday, 7 February 2009

Demoniac

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Demoniac: possessed, produced, or influenced by a demon: demoniac creatures; resembling, or suggestive of a devil; fiendish: demoniac energy; a demoniacal fit. One who is or seems to be possessed by a demon. Middle English demoniak, from Late Latin daemoniacus, from Greek daimoniakos, from daimonios, of a spirit, from daimon. The "before" and "after" descriptions of the demoniac reveal that he is a totally different person under demonic influence. It is rather like the behaviour and personality change in a man who is totally intoxicated. More than this, however, is the fact that the demoniac's own identity and individuality are swallowed up by the demons oppressing him. When Jesus asked the demoniac's name the man replied: “Legion, for we are many.” (Mark 5: 9).

Friday, 6 February 2009

Calantha

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"Her eyes large emerald pools, yet with a puzzled expression ― so beautiful! Her flaxen tresses framing perfect features. She reminds me of her mother. I see so much of Carmel in her each day she grows. ... Her young face looked up at me. It seemed in that moment to contain the expression of my beloved Carmel when we first met more than thirty years ago. How strange life is. In our hot youth we cannot imagine the outcome of a chance meeting in the spring of our existence. Now my life feels as though it is in its yellow leaf and still I cannot anticipate from day to day what might happen. ... She must ge guarded with our lives. ... Calantha's flowers had already completely withered in just a small space of time, adding to the perfumed smell of death which seemed to linger everywhere. Scraping the coffin lid's opaque glass clear of debris, I lifted the candelabrum and peered through. ... A shudder of horror went through me. Then I lurched backwards; momentarily freezing to the spot as my heartbeat raced. A strange stillness hung oppressively in the air. Extinguishing the candelabrum and leaving it nearby, I made my way through rows of moonlit gravestones to the lane outside ..." ― Carmel: A Vampire Tale (2000), pp. 55 & 84.
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Thursday, 5 February 2009

Carmel

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In a novel (published in 2000) I recall this portrait's influence: “What I first noticed were here incredibly green eyes. Next her smile. Then came the golden glow of her hair, and the way the sun danced on those dark blonde tresses as they lifted and fell with each step. She walked with a bounce. Then those amazing eyes again ― eyes that would haunt anyone who saw them.” Carmel is based on someone I first met over four decades ago; someone who was lost and then found again; but finally lost owing to a set of unavoidable circumstances. Our penultimate meeting found me making the suggestion to write a book that would include her name and a little of our story mingled with the novel's plot. She was elated at the prospect. Yet neither of us could have known in that moment we would only meet one more time. Carmel is the result of that suggestion made long ago. Much of what is told in terms of the central relationship is accurate. It nevertheless remains a novel.
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An extract on which emotion pivots the moment of inspiration:

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“Something pulled me inside this room. It felt strangely comfortable. I touched the ivory keys. Drawn to softly caressing the piano keys, my eyes caught the reflection of the deepening sunset in the glass of a gilt picture on the mantlepiece. Still I played excerpts of a nocturne, then a sonata, then the haunting Shostakovich. Unreal light cast by the dying glow of the sun became subdued. I perceived a transfiguration. The previous glare gave way to the features of a face behind the glass in the frame which held my gaze. Was my imagination playing tricks on me? I stopped playing as I momentarily froze. The music continued in an unaccountable and almost discarnate manner. The melody must have been in my head for at that moment my heart was again captured by the image of a photographic portrait. I stood and slowly walked towards the mantlepiece ...”
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My novel is indebted partly to this photographic portrait (which I took at my studio many years ago) and, of course, the portrait's subject. There is also a CD of music referred to in the novel, plus a newly composed piece, where resonates the soft voice of the book's namesake. The CD's title is The Carmel Suite.
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Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Caro

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The Last Adieu

Caro's last adieu as madness overtook her after witnessing Byron's funeral cortège.

It was when perusing Newstead Abbey’s vast collection while still a child that I first made the acquaintance of the subject in this portrait. That distant introduction was a pencil portrait: a quarter-length drawing of a pensive fairy-like ceature with slightly downcast eyes. Mesmerised by this vision, a window seemed to open within my subconscious mind to rich colours lit by candelabras stuffed with melting candles, heavy brocades and tapestries, exquisitely decorated harpsichords, sombre paintings in large frames, dark oak furniture and reverberating, melodic strains from another time. Amidst all this came a ghostly female with rosebud lips, fawn curls and large, sad eyes. Momentary glimpses of Romanticism’s haunted realm where the flickering, wavering image glided in step to echoes from a tinkling, distant spinet, offered somewhere I would visit throughout my life thereafter — a primitive form of time travel. The identity of my apparition became soon apparent. It was Lady Caroline Lamb. My psychic portal grew faint as childhood innocence itself gradually eroded over the years, but later in life I renewed my acquaintance in becoming the biographer of Lady Caroline Lamb.* Lord Brocket invited me to Caroline’s country residence in Hertfordshire, Brocket Hall, and Lady Brocket entered into a correspondence where she told of a haunting at the Hall. In February 1992, Lady Brocket wrote to me about “a woman in the Ballroom” when her ladyship was playing Chopin's music on the ornate grand piano. It all seemed rather familiar.


Caroline Lamb (née Ponsonby) was born in 1785, the fourth child and only daughter of Frederick Ponsonby, 3rd Earl of Bessborough, and his wife Lady Henrietta Frances Spencer, who was the sister of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. In 1805 she married William Lamb (later Lord Melbourne) against the advice of her parents. This childlike attitude is carefully reconstructed in the character of Calantha, one of the protagonists of her novel Glenarvon, whose strict religious principles and childish behaviour are at the origin of her extreme vulnerability. (Calantha is also the name of a character in my novel, Carmel, which is loosely rooted in fact). Caroline and William Lamb had three children, of whom only one survived, Augustus, who had mental problems throughout his life. Caroline met Lord Byron in 1812, first at Lady Jersey's Ball, where she refused to be introduced to him, and later at Holland House. Their illicit relationship lasted from March to November and was as intense as anything could be when Romantics meet.


Caro portrayed by the actress Sarah Miles.

The affair with Byron was also an evasion from the dullness of her matrimonial life. William kept her in what was virtually a silver prison, treating her as a child rather than a sensible and mature woman and mother. Her only past-time was reading, which, together with her extremely emotional attitude brought her to confuse reality and fantasy. Like many other female admirers of Byron, she had felt attraction for him while reading Childe Harold, which made her desperate to meet the author. Both the reading of Childe Harold and her liaison with Byron helped her to break the rigid codes of femininity and domesticity that had been imposed on her since her childhood. Byron inspired her to transform from the faithful, albeit docile, wife to the overwhelmingly passionate and desiring woman. The idea of a demonic Byronic hero was undoubtedly influenced by Caroline's widely-read Glenarvon (1816) and by her two other novels, Graham Hamilton (1822) and Ada Reis (1823), together with Gordon: A Tale (1821). There is also evidence that Caroline's works influenced John Polidori's The Vampyre (1819) and hence the Byronic tradition that derived from it.
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Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Exorcist

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PRAECÍPIO tibi, quicúmque es, spíritus immúnde, et ómnibus sóciis tuis hunc dei fámulum obsidéntibus: ut per mystéria incarnatiónis, passiónis, resurrectiónis et ascensiónis Dómini nostri Jesu Christi, per missiónem Spíritus Sancti, et per advéntum ejúsdem Dómini nostri ad judicium, dicas mihi nomen tuum, die et horam éxitus tui, cum áliquo signo: et ut mihi Dei minístro licet indígno, prorsus in ómnibus obédias: neque hanc creatúram Dei, vel circunstántes, aut eórum bona ullo modo offéndas.

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These self-portraits were painted some three decades after my entering the Exorcistate (minor order of Exorcist) in early 1973. Included above is a photograph taken prior to an exorcism rite.
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Monday, 2 February 2009

Keith

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Keith, introduced to me originally through Elizabeth, later became one of the twelve at the inauguration of Ordo Sancti Graal. On the occasion of my birthday five years ago he kindly gave me The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, comprising one hundred and sixty colour plates. When opening this book, the first plate to greet my eyes was Saint Michael Battling a Demon. A resplendent St Michael is locked in combat with a demon, who claws at his armour as he is pierced by the archangel-saint’s long cross-staff. Although both St Michael and the demon are winged, their struggle takes place on the ground. The patron saint of exorcists impales the demonic manifestation in order to remove it from our earthly plane. Such are the images from this most popular devotional book of the later Middle Ages.


Keith is pictured above during a visit last year to my private chapel. His hair was slightly shorter when I painted his portraits a couple of years earlier and his spectacles were noticably larger. A third portrait, not shown here, was presented to him on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday. The portrait which appears below combines emotions from forty years ago (the time of his harrowing confrontation with a situation where the malign supernatural held sway) together with a transfigured appearance more redolent of how he might eventually look.

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In many instances, of course, such biographical analysis is unnecesary and not territory the artist should wittingly enter, but occasionally it is rewarding for those totally unfamiliar with the subject matter and the subject's background. Even so, paintings must speak for themselves. They should be more than just the sum of the parts. Something transcendental ought to manifest as oil greets canvas; something of the inner person.
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Sunday, 1 February 2009

Elżbieta

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The portrait’s focus is Elizabeth; not the vision to which she and her girlfriend were subjected. The expression in her eyes hints at the spectacle reserved for the two convent girls as they made their nocturnal return home past Highgate Cemetery. The inflamed mounds on her neck are indications of the malign supernatural at work. In fact, they were not apparent at the time of this unearthly experience. The portrait’s diabolical stigmata is a presentiment of terrible things yet to come. Elizabeth’s attire compliments the moon shadows with St Michael’s looming in the background. No crucifix can be seen around her neck. Tombs glow eerily under beams of dull reflection as the moment is frozen in time. Elizabeth Wojdyla’s name would become synonymous with all she witnessed on that night.



Elizabeth photographed in the autumn of 1969. Revealed are two abrasions on her neck. Page 57 of The Highgate Vampire (Gothic Press, 1991) recounts: “I noticed for the first time the marks on the side of her neck … two inflamed mounds on the skin, the centre of each bearing a tiny hole.” Elizabeth and Barbara, two sixteen-year-old students of La Sainte Union Convent, were walking home late at night after visiting friends in Highgate Village. Their journey took them down Swains Lane which intersects Highgate Cemetery, a Victorian graveyard in two halves on a steep hill. These intelligent students could not believe their eyes as they passed the cemetery's north gate at the beginning of their downward path between the two graveyards. For there before them, amongst the jutting tombstones and stone vaults, the dead seemed to be emerging from their graves. The two schoolgirls walked in eerie silence until they reached the bottom of the lane. Here they spoke for the first time, having finally found their voice, and confirmed they had both experienced the same terrifying scene. So frightening was their experience that Barbara would not talk about it again. Elizabeth, however, gave me her account some months later. It was tape-recorded and can be heard in a television film documentary about the Highgate Vampire case. Elizabeth recounted: "We both saw this scene of graves directly in front of us. And the graves were opening up; and the people were rising. We were not conscious of walking down the lane. We were only conscious of this graveyard scene." I have tried to capture this moment in my portrait along with the demonry that later took hold on Elizabeth where her elocuted and very attractive feminine voice would suddenly erupt into a distorted masculine sound, deep and harsh, that issued threats. Her boyfriend recalled this phenomenon in an interview he gave for a documentary (True Horror: Vampires distributed by Discovery Channel) which also includes archive recordings of Elizabeth speaking about her vision and the puncture marks on her neck.
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