Birds of Paradise is a collective noun for messengers from the Promised Land, and this exhibition of paintings is an exploration of some of their essential attributes in an attempt to understand something of this contested and rather elusive place. This title has not been adopted because of ideas of the afterlife, or utopian associations but because of the exquisite specializations of a family of birds of the same name found in Eastern Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Eastern Australia whose full expression and celebratory existence seem to offer a possible significance as a cultural ideology. Such was the mystique of these birds that for a period, specimens of the greater bird of paradise brought back to Europe from early 16th century trading expeditions in the were thought to be nothing less than the mythical phoenix My perspective is that of a traditional Yoruba; according to the elders at the beginning of time Olorun the Almighty master of the skies made the spiritual command Ashe manifest in the pantheon of spiritual agents called Orisha, and to a greater or lesser extent in certain humans and animals. In this poetic universe birds, because of their ability to mediate between the heavens and the earth have a privileged position and are strongly associated with the communication of ideas. The avatars of Ashe are not limited to the animal kingdom, mighty iroko trees, sentinels guarding the Yoruba universe, iron when properly consecrated, a drop of blood or semen are all believed to contain Ashe. Formal representations of the spiritual command can also be found in objects or works of art that transcend ordinary questions of their materiality or use. We perceive in the essential nature of these messengers a reflection, of the complex and morally neutral powers of the spiritual command.
Towards the end of the last century while still a practicing architect I decided that I wanted to become an illustrated man. At that stage, I had a few small and rather discrete tattoos from my student days at the school of architecture in Hull. I always had a fascination with the transformative possibilities offered by body art, the impulse which had lain dormant for several years resurfaced and now as a partner in my own architectural practice I could afford to indulge in a more ambitious project of full body coverage. After an exhaustive search and a few unsatisfactory encounters, I discovered the legendary IN2U Tattoo Parlor in Farringdon. My first impression as I walked in was delight; it felt like the discovery of a beautiful secret right in the heart of city; here were some of the best tattooists in the world Alex Binnie, Curly, Dan Gold, Xed le Hed, French Thomas, and Mr. X they were also some of the most extravagantly modified human beings I’d ever seen. What we shared was a conception of the unmarked/untattooed human body as a biological entity, raw and uncooked, while the tattooed body complete with marks of civilization is cooked and operates as a cultural entity. This in contrast to the Judaeo Christian tradition where in spite of recent developments tattoos are often seen as an interruption of natural processes and somewhat problematic. I was determined that covering my body, both in indelible marks would be an act of discrimination; The Yoruba concept of the Person with respect to the body-mind relationship is a unitary one. We believe that people have both interior and exterior dimensions. Outer appearance may either hide or reveal one's inner self. The images etched on my skin would have to be personally significant but unsentimental. I also felt the process could be enriched by being embedded in the routines of daily life. After some deliberation I chose Mr. X for his intelligence and beautiful draughtsmanship the arrangement was that he would tattoo me every Friday between 12.00 pm – 3.00pm with drawings I provided, there would be no overall design or theme, the only requirement, that I produce an image each week that I’m prepared to live with for the rest of my life. While the health of our skin and its ability to perform its protective functions is a private matter, it’s external appearance is of cultural significance and has been a major preoccupation for mankind since the beginning of time as it is perceived to be intrinsically linked to our sense of identity, through selective myth-making, and propaganda Faith in the possibility of transformation to a greater or lesser extent is the central impulse to all types of tattooing; this metamorphic itch which can be provoked by episodes of extreme passion, faith, optimism, confusion or joy is made manifest on the skin but the corresponding change of priorities or status that they signal can be just as important they are best seen as permanent talismans representative of inner workings. The painting is a celebration of that amazing process of transformation and may have been the start of my recalibration from architect to painter.