Why paint a picture of Mary Magdalene?


This painting took a long time.  I first had the idea for it back in June. I was doing a nude study of a beautiful ex ballet dancer. There was something about the way she sat, the poise and tension, which made me think of waiting. Waiting for something that was really important.    And I began to think of the day after Jesus’ death. Mary had seen her teacher and friend brutally killed. I think she would also have seen Him laid in the tomb. Then, at sunset, the Sabbath started and there was nothing she could do. 

The rules of Jewish society were very clear. No work at all could be done on the Sabbath. So, I imagined her going out of the city, maybe near to the tomb, and just sitting. She would have been shocked and grieving but not incapacitated. There was still work to do. She would need to return the next day to anoint the dead body of her friend. 

But why, in this era of identity politics, do a religious painting at all?  Well because this is my identity. It is neither cool or fashionable but it is real. The events at Passover some 2000 years ago still matter and make a difference to millions of people. The echoes of the death and resurrection still chime down the centuries. Visual art has always been an important expression of Christian faith. In my small way, I’d like to be part of that. 

Finding the line between control and expression


Recently I did a short course in academic drawing. One of the exercises was to draw this lovely woman. There was a lot of emphasis on control and precision on the course which was useful for me but started me thinking about how we balance control and expression in art. Much of the art loved by ordinary members of the public (Van Gogh's sunflowers, Constable's Haywain for instance) balances precisely between control and the use of expressive gesture. Too much control and the painting is dead. Too little and it is simply a mess. 

We may see the achievement of this balance as a kind of genius but mostly it requires practice. Sometimes I feel I am just touching the edges of this balance but then it slips out of my grasp. Sometimes it creeps up on me when I least expect it. The ultimate expression of this in music are the great Jazz musicians. I've also seen it in preachers and political speakers. I think the trick is to lose control slightly but have the knowledge and skills to stay right on the edge. I'm going to keep practicing and hope. 


Tulips dissolving

Tulips dissolving

I did this little painting on Friday when I had had hardly any sleep and was feeling like I couldn’t do any serious painting. 

But doing these quick little paintings was curiously healing. It was as though the tension flowed away with the paint.