Portraits and hashtags

A painting and a drawing arising from today’s headlines and subject of my current proofreading job: the networked self.

Oil on canvas, 8 inches square
Pencil drawing – it’s all about the hashtag

A digital doodle and some rope

Avatar waiting to be enminded
Oil study

Further proof that I have not got a one-track mind.

The drawing was random and its caption came later. The rope study was an exercise, to wake up my painting muscles.


The songs of some birds belong to their species, inherited, shared. The wood pigeons sing the same five-note phrase today as their long-gone cousins did when I was on my way to school. The yellowhammer still tweets its nursery rhyme: ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese’. The buzzards still shed their thin calls from thermal heights, like dropped needles. We know them by their calls as much as by their flight or feathers, more perhaps, like the small birds in the hedge which are heard and not seen.

How strange … What mechanisms lead them to utter only those shared songs? What constrains their muscles and their breath to such specific performances? A shape of the larynx or a pattern in the brain?

We, on the other hand, proud individuals, each produce our own assemblages of sound, in different tongues and tones. What would it be like if every time you opened your mouth to speak the same thing came out? And even more strange, if the same thing came out of every other human mouth too. Every utterance as unmodulated as the noises off emitted by our guts, as unvarying as the chime of a bell. Would we find ways to express our separate selves – by timing perhaps, a Morse code of calls?

But maybe the apparent sameness of some birds’ calls is only a symptom of our unsubtle hearing. Maybe every pigeon’s coo is as finely crafted and as variable to their ears as are our infinitely productive tongues.

Or perhaps, to those single-tongued creatures, our constantly inconstant speech sounds like a Babel, a cacophony, the chaotic clamour of a flock of lost souls, flailing and flapping with a thesaurus, who have forgotten, or never found, their ur-syllable, their logos, their essential, final, perfect word.


They are cutting down trees again, not here, but in another village on the way home from town. I saw the tractor with its trailer-load of amputated trunks; it was waiting to join the traffic on the main road at that junction where you always have to wait a very long time.

Someone must have thought that scruffy scrap of woodland would be better bare and treeless; that tangle of trees, mirrored in an obscure pool, would be better ‘developed’ into housing to meet the need for more rungs on the property ladder.

Will the houses they build stand around that pool too, looking into its dark stillness? Or will it be filled up with who knows what? It’s deep, they say. How much debris will it hold? And where will all that black water go instead? Not to mention all the previous residents of wood and pool. (That’s apophasis, by the way – a rhetorical term I learnt today, for talking about something by saying you won’t talk about it, or a theological one for speaking of what can’t be spoken of.)

But the market gets what the market wants, and never mind those costs that can’t be written in a ledger or summed up in a spreadsheet.

The ineffable can eff off, as long as there’s profit to be made.


After Giacometti

I’ve been playing with my phone’s drawing app again. Also using up a free trial on Netflix, where I found a film about Giacometti, Final Portrait. It felt like a visit to his studio.

I assume some of the dialogue was authentic:

‘a portrait is never finished…’

‘to paint you how I see you is impossible…’

Not cheery, but inspiring.

Hence, this drawing.

(I have also ventured on to Instagram. I knew getting a smartphone would be dangerous.)