Author Archives: ihoward62



Little Wing,  pigment, silverpoint, and graphite on board 7.5 x 7.5 cm

Vanitas, pigment, acrylic, silverpoint, and graphite on board 7.5 x 7.5 cm




‘Our Infinite Land’. Taking Hugh MacDiarmid’s decrial ‘Scotland small? Our multiform, our infinite Scotland small?’ Royal Scottish Academy. June/July 2019

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The Patient North 40 x 40 cms mixed media on wood panel.

My Heart Always Goes Back to the North, Hugh MacDiarmid, and the last lines of the poem:


But my heart always goes back to the North,

With its mingling of fire and ice, of black lava, green fell, blue firth,

‘When all that ever hotter sprites expressed

Comes bettered by the patience of the North.”


(The last two lines are quoted from Samuel Daniel’s poem, Musophilus 1599).


The objects in the foreground reference the polyhedron in Durer’s engraving Melancholia and The Terrible Crystal poem of MacDiarmid, and originally, the biblical ‘terrible crystal’ – Ezekiel 1:22.

Day and Night

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Day and Night mixed media on wood panels 30×40 cm


Isobel Gowdie




Isobel Gowdie

Ian Howard: Isobel Gowdie Portrait (after Pisanello), Isobel Gowdie mixed media on wood panels 30×20 cm

Isobel Gowdie was a 17th century Scottish woman who was accused and tried for witchcraft in 1662 in Auldearn. Her story is significant because she gave an elaborate confession filled with elements of fantasy and magic.
More importantly, it is said that she confessed without torture, and she gave her testimony on four occasions. With no torture she volunteered stories about shape-shifting into animals, particularly a hare, and meetings with the Devil.
Isobel was a young woman at the time of her trial. Some articles say that she was well educated and “married below her class.” While others state that Isobel may have been mentally disabled or disturbed. Emma Wilby, author of a recent book on Gowdie, speculates that Isobel may have been a storyteller or village bard.
One theory suggests that some of these accused witches were participating in shamanic visionary practices that were holdovers from the pre-Christian era.
These women and men might have been participating in spirit journeys to the otherworlds through the use of trance or hallucination inducing substances (herbs or mushrooms). This may account for many of the fabulous things mentioned in Isobel’s testimony.

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Banniere 2019

Banner for l’Art et la Banniere 2019, Lot, Occitanie. Isobel Gowdie avec un lievre (d’apres Pisanello).  Mixed media on canvas 200x105cm



Phaethon 2018 mixed media on wood panel 140x100cm

Phaethon was one of the two immortal steeds of the dawn-goddess Eos, the other being Lampos. Here a statue of Phaeton is in the process of being cast in gold.

‘EOS (Êôs), in Latin Aurora, the goddess of the morning red, who brings up the light of day from the east. She was a daughter of Hyperion and Theia or Euryphassa, and a sister of Helios and Selene. (Hes. Theog. 371, &c.; Hom. Hymn in Sol. ii.) Ovid (Met. ix. 420, Fast. iv. 373) calls her a daughter of Pallas. At the close of night she rose front the couch of her beloved Tithonus, and on a chariot drawn by the swift horses Lampus and Phaëton she ascended up to heaven from the river Oceanus, to announce the coming light of the sun to the gods as well as to mortals.’ (Hom. Od. v. 1, &c., xxiii. 244; Virg. Aen. iv. 129, Georg. i. 446; Hom. Hymn in Merc. 185; Theocrit. ii. 148, xiii. 11.)



The Scottish Gallery



Revelation 2017 mixed media on panel 28 x 35.5 cm

Revelation has its origins in the Book Of Revelation. An angel, who hovers in the distance, has taken a “golden censer,” filled with fire from the heavenly altar, and thrown it to the earth (8:3–5). What follows are “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” (8:5). Hail and fire, mingled with blood, are thrown to the earth burning up a third of the trees and green grass. (8:6–7). All fresh water turns to blood. (16:4–7)


Draco 2016, mixed media on wood panel 80 x 60 cm

Draco is essentially an alchemical emblem representing part of the alchemical process. ‘Prima materia’ in the course of its elaboration must be subjected to a four-fold division, divided into four elements, described in the form of a cross. This is the cross of Physis, which enables matter to be incarnated and to come into the world. The cross is an allusion to both the conflict of opposites and to the Crucifixion. Only this coming together of opposites can slay the alchemical or mercurial dragon. In alchemy, it is part of the symbolic imagery of ‘mortificatio’ – killing, decay and decomposition. That which undergoes ‘mortificatio’ is the ‘slaying of the dragon’.

The Sottish Gallery 16 Dundas Street | Edinburgh | EH3 6HZ | + 44 (0) 131 558 1200 | |Instagram: @ScottishGallery |Twitter: @ScottishGallery

Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture




Amphitheatrum  mixed media on wood panel 140x100cm

Amphiteatrum is an emblem of disorder; a microcosm of chaos; a mystical demi-monde; une petite apocalypse.

It is set within a 17th century engraving of the Anatomy Theatre at Leiden. Petrus Paauw, Professor of Anatomy, speculated about an anatomical theatre, inspired by classical examples such as the Colosseum, where each member of the audience had an unrestricted view of the arena. He travelled to Padua in Italy and after his studies there, he lobbied in Leiden for a permanent theatre. His wish was fulfilled in 1594, several months before the theatre at the University of Padua opened.   
Leiden and Padua became the first universities in Europe to offer public anatomy lessons. The demonstrations took place every year in the winter – in the summer the corpses would start to decompose too quickly. The public dissections were a high point in the academic year; lectures would be halted and the bells would ring.
But by the end of the 18th century the theatre had become little more than a fairground attraction. The once illustrious institution became the object of contention: an increasing number of people, both within and outside the university, condemned the public dissection of corpses as vulgar spectacle. In 1821 the anatomical theatre was dismantled.

In Amphiteatrum, the image of the decaying anatomy theatre is overlaid with a kind of ‘Inverso Mundus’; a medieval genre depicting the world-upside-down or feast of fools. It is a world in chaos with the natural order reversed, where death itself itself represented by the mask of the plague doctor and the apocalypse has become a form of entertainment. A cast of eccentric creatures and characters circle the anarchic scene taking place in the glass dome at the centre of the theatre. This in turn, is linked to the upper part of the work by a column leading to an oval vignette containing a poisoned chalice, set against a landscape of skulls.


Pithos  mixed media dyptch 2x wood panels each 30x20cm

The work Pithos is a dyptch, painted on two gessoed wooden panels. The subject is the Greek goddess Pandora, on the right hand panel, with the infamous vessel, on the left. The vessel is often mistakenly called ‘Pandora’s Box’, which is a mistranslation of the original Greek word was ‘pithos’, which is a large jar. It was used for the storage of wine, oil, grain or other provisions, or, ritually, as a container for a body for burial.
The mistranslation of pithos is usually attributed to the 16th century humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam who translated Hesiod’s tale of Pandora into Latin. Erasmus rendered pithos as the Greek pyxis, meaning ‘box’. The phrase ‘Pandora’s box’ has endured ever since.
According to the myth, Pandora opened the jar (pithos), releasing all the evils of humanity, leaving only Hope inside once she had closed it again. The Pandora myth is a kind of theodicy, addressing the question of why there is evil in the world.
Pandora, here, is based on the figure of Venus as painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder, in 1532. The naked figure is bathed in light, and the background behind her sinks into a cosmic and inexplicable darkness. Today we are familiar with such effects from photographs, film and stage sets. In Cranach’s time it would have been read as a surreal unworldly image which could not have been associated with an earthly being. A depiction of Venus as enigmatic, seductive and intimate as this would most likely have been made for a private cabinet of art and curiosities.
Here also, Pandora has a monkey. In ‘vanitas’ still-life painting the monkey is usually representative of chaos.
In the left-hand panel, the dangerous pithos is depicted as a chalice, that most holy of forms. Legends turn on the talismanic properties of the chalice and the secrets it can bestow. It is the medieval form of the collision between Christian doctrine and magic.
Here, Paulo Uccello’s c.1430 seminal analysis of the chalice is a renaissance exercise in the coding of three dimensional form which prefigures the geometries of Reid, Reimann and Einstein, not to mention the spatial nets which underpin computer graphics.
This pithos/chalice floats against a black void and geometrical grid, and above a mystical landscape. It represents a geometry of the mind which can transmute without warning from the parameters of mathematics to the edges of myth and religious symbolism, and back again.