Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture




Amphitheatrum  mixed media on wood panel 140x100cm

Amphitheatrum 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.


Double Diablerie – Chicago






Page size 900 x 600 mm printed recto verso.

Double Diablerie

Double Diablerie (DD project) is a print project resulting in four limited edition large-scale artists’ books. The full completed project was exhibited at the Satellite Gallery, Nagoya, Japan in July 2016 and was exhibited at the John David Mooney Foundation Chicago in September /October 2016.

Scottish artists Arthur Watson and Ian Howard have discussed this project intermittently over the last few years. Although their individual work is essentially different they share an interest in the Devil and his place in religion and folklore. The artists found a corresponding interest with Japanese printmakers Sotaro Ide and Hisashi Kurachi.

In 2010 Arthur Watson was in Nagoya for an exhibition of his work and delivered a lecture ‘Ritual, superstition, and oral culture in Scotland “, at the University of the Arts, Aichi, Nagoya which led to the development of the theme for the DD project; a commonality of esoteric cultures linking Scotland and Japan, including for example, mountains named for the Devil, groves of trees with spiritual significance, incantations, scapegoat rituals and ghostly manifestations.

The outcome of the DD project is four limited edition artists’ books – one by each artist – with editioned pages, 900 x 600mm, printed recto-verso. The edition size is ten. The books have been bound by the Japanese sewn method and each set of four books is presented in boxes customised by the artists. Two further sets remain unbound for exhibition.

This exhibition which consists of sixty-four large scale prints, sixteen by each artist, plus the bound artists’ books and boxes, was presented at the John David Mooney Foundtion, Chicago. This venue was particularly appropriate for this exhibition, as both Howard and Watson have previously shown work here, and have had a long and creative association with John David.

Scroll down for Double Diablerie Nagoya




HIVE mixed media on wood panel 100 x 140 cm

(photo Chris Park)

Babel in ruins.

‘Almost all linguistic mythologies, from Brahmin wisdom to Celtic and North African lore, concurred in believing that original speech had shivered into seventy-two shards, or into a number that was a simple multiple of seventy-two. Which were the primal fragments? Surely if these could be identified, diligent search would discover in them lexical and syntactic traces of the lost language of Paradise, remnants equitably scattered by an incensed God and whose reconstruction, like that of a broken mosaic, would lead men back to the universal grammar of Adam. If they did exist, these clues would be deep-hidden. They ought to be ferreted out, as Kabbalists and adepts of Hermes Trismegistus sought to do, by words and syllables, by inverting words and applying to ancient names, particularly to the diverse nominations of the Creator, a calculus as intricate as that of chiromancers and astrologers. The stakes were very high. If man could break down the prison walls of scattered and polluted speech (the rubble of the smashed tower), he would again have access to the inner penetralia of reality. He would know the truth as he spoke it.’

George Steiner After Babel Oxford University Press 1975




Basilius Valentinus





Semper Augustus 2015
30×40 cm
Mixed Media on two wood panels, 30×20 cm each panel.

Semper Augustus is one of a series of small works based on the writings and images by Basil Valentine. Basil Valentine is the anglicised version of the name Basilius Valentinus, ostensibly a 15th-century alchemist, possibly Canon of the Benedictine Priory of Saint Peter in Erfurt, but more likely a pseudonym used by one or several 16th-century German authors and alchemists.

All the works in the series refer to alchemical processes and are in effect emblems. Emblems of what? Emblems of emblems. All the works are the same scale and the double panel format represents an open book page. Here the left hand panel shows a page from the “Vier Tractatlien” 1625, with the alchemical motto VITRIOL: Visitetis Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenietis Occultum Lapidem ; ‘Visit the interior of the earth and rectifying (i.e. purifying), you will find the hidden/secret stone’. This refers to the search for the Philosopher’s Stone, and the there are various references in the painting to the stages, levels and colours of the alchemical process; nigredo, a blackening or melanosis; albedo, a whitening or leucosis; citrinitas,a yellowing or zanthosis; rubedo, a reddening or iosis. These are also represented by the images and colours of the demons of the underworld. These demons are quoted from the 14th century frescoes of the Spanish Chapel in Santa Maria Novella, Florence by Andrea Di Bonaiuto (Andrea Di Firenze).

The tulip image is from a 17th century still-life painting by Johannes Goedaert, showing the ‘broken’ tulip Semper Augustus – those dwarf (diseased) tulips which were at the centre of the17th century Dutch tulip mania. In 1637, a single Semper Augustus bulb sold for more than ten times the annual income of a skilled craftsworker. This image appears on the cover of ‘The Art of Arts’, Rediscovering Painting by Anita Albus, University of California Press Ltd., 2001, – a book which has been a major influence on the technical aspects of my painting.

There is also a Scottish connection. The 1637 event was popularised in 1841 by the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, written by Scottish journalist Charles Mackay, which also has a chapter debunking alchemy and alchemists.

Technical Note:
Several years ago, I undertook some research into traditional and largely lost painting methods and materials. In this I was inspired by ‘The Art of Arts’, Rediscovering Painting by Anita Albus, University of California Press Ltd., 2001. In this book, among many other things, Anita Albus describes the ‘lost colours”, and the chemical make up and crystalline form of those pigments. Pigments such as Orpiment, Realgar, Cinnabar, Malachite and Lapis Lazuli, and including the highly poisonous Lead Tin Yellow and the mystical Dragon’s Blood-Powder. A very particular effect can be created by applying layers of thin colour made from these pigments, over a monochrome underpainting or an imprinted decal, and using an amber based varnish. As my subject matter- symbols, science and alchemy – involves a layering of imagery, this seemed an appropriate matching of method and meaning. Also the links between the physicality of alchemical practice and that of the grinding of pigment did not escape me, as I worked my pestle and mortar.


Ian Howard_Study for The Death of Magic copy

All mixed media on wood 30 x 40 cm





Of the first Tincture, Root, and Spirit of METALS and MINERALS, how the same are Conceived, Generated, Brought forth, Changed, and Augmented.