2.14 - Painting 2011
2.03 - Deliverance

Song of Substance - Transmigratory Passage of the Death Wish

This is not so much a single work but a story used to describe the ‘mechanics' of the creative process. I think of it as a song, or spell, subconsciously invoked by an artist during the expression of art, through the language of materials. 

It is like a dirge or lament that is cyclical in nature and provides the pathway on which ideas travel. It occurred to me around 1993-94 and was recorded in a notebook of that time. 

The concept was the inspiration for small- and large-scale drawings and prints in 1994, and informed many works in the following years. A series of etchings and paintings was produced in 2011 that directly references this myth.
I had read the eulogy, ‘A mortal tenement for a noble soul’, while passing a cemetery, and used the terms in my work to distinguish the material body from an idea it might contain.

The narrative tells of a noble soul that journeys from the mortal tenement of the head to another realm and returns with news from that other land. Underlying the myth is the image of an artist (mortal tenement) formulating an idea (noble soul), and reaching out with sad hope to make that idea manifest in a work of art.

The thought journeys from the artist's head and is seeded in the mediums of art, which then re-inspires the artist with more ideas. This circulation of energy between two material states is the 'transmigratory passage' of the title.

The ‘death wish’ is wishful thinking beyond the death of every passing thought, as it journeys forth. A chain of effects begins when the song formulates in the head of a magician and departs to respond to a calling.


This ‘calling’ seems to be a transmission from another land, with which there is an elemental desire to connect. There is warning and some urgency in this foreign signal, which alerts the noble soul of impending decay.

The interior of each side of the skull is represented by rocky headlands, or 'ghost cliffs', through which these messages transmit. (This stage relates to the build up of hope in the welling desires of the artist as s/he prepares to transmit.)

The noble soul takes flight. It is a pregnant thought, taking leave of the magician's head. Like a bird, it takes with it a remaining sample of fertile ground from the land it departs.




The mortal tenement is left barren and desolate, suffering the dispossession of life-spirit. The magician's head is a wasteland; it weeps and mourns. (This stage equates with the sense of helplessness and doubt when devoting creative energy towards something.)

The flight path of the noble soul allows the magician to see. Eventually the noble soul connects with another material state, where it deposits its seed.

It returns, which creates hope for the ongoing cross-fertilisation between the two lands. (This stage relates to the re-inspiration of the artist from the art s/he creates, allowing the process to begin again.)

The Transmigratory Passage of the Death Wish is another way of describing a self-sustaining system of creative drive, much like the mythological ‘art battery’ I developed in drawings in 1991.

The model in this case is the emotional dynamic of hope/despair that any artist faces daily in their practice.




Explore this theme

1. Introduction

2. Heads and Horns

3. The Effigy of Image

4. Transmigratory Passage of the Death Wish (You Are Here)

5. Dealing the Death of Me