Can An AI Paint An Icon?

The Severed Head of St. John the Forerunner, c. 1870s. Egg tempera on silvered and gessoed wood, 31 x 26 cm. Private collection.

There’s a timely reflection by Seung Heon Sheen over at Transpositions on the relationship between AI-generated art and iconography, with implications for how we might consider the relationship between an artist and their work more generally. It draws on relevant texts from the iconoclast controversies of the eighth and ninth centuries. Here’s a snippet of the argument in nuce:

… any ‘icon’ generated by a ML algorithm would be inherently idolatrous since the relationship between the image and the archetype would be severed. That is, although the works produced by a human iconographer and an AI ‘iconographer’ may be outwardly similar, inwardly they would be radically different due to the disparity in the process of their creation. A human iconographer faithfully contemplates and depicts the archetype; an AI abandons the archetype and merely replicates its images. And if this is so in the case of iconography, it implies a danger of idolatry in involving AI in religious art or employing it for religious purposes.

You can read the full piece here.

What Comes to Light

Loud Sky is an exhibition of works by five artists who have responded to engagement with survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. This engagement has included direct conversations, the recounting of stories of survival, the sharing of treasured objects, and, in some cases, the direct involvement of survivors in the making of the final artwork. The lives of survivors are made visible and imprinted in and through the works commissioned especially for this exhibition. Loud Sky is a term borrowed in part from the Loud Fence movement, which began in Ballarat in 2016 and has now gone around the world, where ribbons have been tied on church fences as a form of memory making, protest, of visualising loss, and also a celebration of human life. Loud Sky seeks to visualise the story of those impacted in the Hunter Region, honouring their courage, resilience, and instincts for survival. Institutional child sexual abuse has had a profound and far-reaching impact on this region and has directly affected the lives of many thousands of people. This exhibition gives expression to these human stories, giving them a voice and a form of visual presence. Despite the horror of abuse, these works visualise courage, containing elements of profound and great beauty.

Clare Weeks, notes to self, #07, #08, #09, #11, #13, #14, #19, #23, 2023. Digital inkjet print from scanned silver gelatin photographs, 79.5 x 59.5 cm each panel. Photograph by Ben Adams.

This sense of imprinting is found in the strategy developed by Clare Weeks, where she invited survivors to take a sheet of plain paper and imagine themselves writing a word that expresses their sense of resilience and hope. She invited respondents to fold or crease this paper into an enfolded form. Each of these was then documented through a process of numbering, unfolding, and photographing their surface and then refolding them to their original condition. Each scanned surface reveals unique, idiosyncratic, and textured features. Thirty-two members of the survivor community responded to this invitation, and each is treated with reverence and importance as objects that contain memories of great significance. They each carry a fragile delicacy and beauty. Each fold is unique and particular. This record of the physical process of remembering reminds us of the manner in which we fold up what is most precious to us. We carefully enfold our hopes as precious possessions, keeping them safe, tucked neatly below our rib cage. Clare Weeks draws attention to the manner in which human memories are transferred to objects, things we hold dear that become relics or tokens of hope that empower a sense of resilience. These are delicate and beautiful objects that reveal, as through a veil, a remarkable expression of hope.

Damien Linnane, Bob (dominos), 2022. Graphite on paper, 420 x 297 cm. Photograph by Ben Adams.

Objects that serve as vessels for memory are evidenced in an even more distilled form through the eloquently rendered drawings of Damien Linnane. Inviting survivors to share a treasured object, the artist calls for our sympathetic engagement with objects that carry a form of empowerment that aids survival. These are objects alive with resonant significance that amplify human hopes, ambitions, and pleasure. They represent relationships of love, playfulness and achievement. These are objects of power. When so much else has been taken away from survivors in their childhood, these objects operate as rudders for hope to be touched, held, and found in the present moment as a tangible form of resilience. Linnane’s drawing technique gives these objects a striking visual presence as each surface is delicately observed so that the light seems to emanate from within. These are lovingly rendered, and we sense the delight, interest, and commitment of the artist as we follow with our own eye each mark and gesture that gives life and presence to otherwise inanimate objects – these things that are alive with memory. It is a privilege for the viewer to be given intimate access to this treasured relic and its capacity for hope.

Fiona Lee, Why Bother?, 2023. Latex and acrylic paint, 98 x 167 cm. Photograph by Ben Adams.

Fiona Lee’s work presents the softly lit form of three casement windows. The viewer is placed in a stance of both looking out and looking in. This is a space of hovering decision-making about where to focus one’s attention. The particular form of the work came as a response to a question the artist asked survivors about what motivated them to begin their day, which more deeply frames questions about life’s purpose, and finding the energy for action. Honest, straightforward answers included the choice to stay in bed, or to reach towards relationships of love, or the mundane responsibilities that accompany being in community. The material of the window is a latex mould. It is like a skin, or a print, of a lead-lined casement window. It materialises the question we face at the beginning of every day – every plan, every hope, and every action – of whether it will be worth the effort to engage this day, this opportunity. To open this window involves risk, the potential for change and loss, and also the fresh air of new possibilities. Every window has this quality of beckoning the imagination. Their frames of tight geometry play out a matrix of fear and expectations, or they provide escape, freedom, or hope without restraint. This particular window holds us in the moment of decision-making, with the question of where this day might lead.

Peter Gardiner, The Fire, 2023. Oil on 300gsm Arches paper, 250 x 550 cm. Photograph by Ben Adams.

Peter Gardiner brings us into the searing presence of light and heat. The fire is a metaphor for danger and catastrophe that appears out of the darkness with the lighting of one match. This is the wildfires ignited by the Royal Commission that resulted in over 8,000 recorded testimonies of institutional abuse. There was smoke, as things were rumoured, that now appear in the light for all to see. However, the full force of this grand scene is held in check. We can observe the impact of the fire from a safe distance and begin to see that within the fire, there is the possibility of survival, renewal, and a new order of things. Fire not only destroys; it also brings new life to the environment; it purifies, transforms, and renews; it turns from red into gold. Gardiner’s work carries both horror and hope. We are in the presence of some immense catastrophe that will change how we live well into the future so that this does not happen again. It is an active vigilance towards justice that arises from a community having been confronted with the truth. No longer is there a tolerance for darkness, as there can only be light, even if it threatens to burn.

Lottie Consalvo, Silent Film, 2023. Single-channel video, 4 min 1 sec. Photograph by Ben Adams.

Lottie Consalvo’s work is a collaboration with a survivor, and his wife, around the question of what has sustained their lives. It offers a meditative exploration through silence and slow-moving gestural forms. The video-based work carries a grainy texture like paint, slowing our looking towards a more considered and contemplative place. We are in the presence of a human life, but one where each gesture becomes magnificent, primal, and beautiful. There are passages where an arm reaches out in ritual-like action, perhaps reaching for something, and then, at other times, a gesture of letting go. Without a narrative structure, the viewer has to put together this work in their own imagination as we follow the subtle shifts of gesture and the phrases of text that evoke states of silence. The artist invites us to be present as viewers of the simple beauty of silence at the heart of human existence. This is the invitation to be still and to be quiet, to have nothing, and to have everything, all at the same time. This is a space beyond fear, manipulation, and anxiety, where a human being might thrive in and through the small gestures of living. This is finding a life worth living and being grateful for that because it is enough. The silence of this work speaks with eloquence. It amplifies the beauty of being human.

This exhibition includes a timeline that lays out the history of the emerging public awareness of the abuse as well as television footage of these events as they unfolded. Words by family members of survivors that record the impact on their lives are also included, as well as a series of school photos of victims, not all of whom have survived. Against this dark and difficult reality, the work of the five artists commissioned for this exhibition offers something tangibly beautiful about the nature of being human. What comes to light is the courage and resilience of victims and survivors.

Christ Church Anglican Cathedral Newcastle installation view, ribbon flowers and bamboo. Photograph by Ben Adams.

A final expression of the exhibition’s aims was the installation of around 7,000 ribbon flowers on the grounds of both the Catholic and Anglican Cathedrals in Newcastle. Made by survivors, friends and family, and community and church members, they are an act of remembering victims and survivors. They express a desire for truth-telling and community healing. Art provides the resources to approach experiences of horror and disintegration in a manner that brings deeper understanding, shared compassion, and the possibility of a more hopeful future.

Loud Sky is on exhibition at The Lock Up Contemporary Art Space in Newcastle until 21 May.



Being Among Trees

When words fail me, being in the studio helps me make sense of the world.

This new body of work emerges from several years of attending more deeply to the life of the trees that surround and companion me every day. For many years, I have walked routinely along a path that follows a local creek, appreciating how the trees continue to hold space for me. Even as the weather changes and shapes them, we both endure. But in late 2021, I watched my neighbour excavating the land nearby and, by doing so, undermining the existence of a healthy gum tree. As the roots of this tree were laid bare, I went into the studio to paint the grief that I felt and understand the depth of my response to the inevitable loss of this tree.

It seems that in choosing to live among trees, we live within a nexus of risk and power. In being among the trees surrounding my studio as I make this work, I am becoming more deeply aware of the interdependence that shapes our life with trees. Trees welcome the CO2 that I cannot bear and, in turn, offer me life in the form of oxygen. As I learn to see how trees live interdependently with one another, I see a healthy exchange between risk and power, shaping how I can choose to live with others. I am learning to see trees in the way I see people, and I am wondering what it is like to be a being among trees.

Over the past year or so, I have been working towards developing a new exhibition set to be hung in April 2023.

Being Among Trees will hang in the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre between 3–27 April. Rather than an opening night, I have scheduled an afternoon for a conversation with the artwork and me. Further details are below:



Bringing hope and value to our culture through the interactions and power of artists

Review of Imagination in an Age of Crisis: Soundings from the Arts and Theology, edited by Jason A. Goroncy and Rod Pattenden. Review by Dr Angela McCarthy.

This is a book that one can dip in and out of many times, and the gift still keeps giving. Poets, writers, musicians, artists, journalists, and others have contributed to this volume, which makes it very rich, and this book review cannot cover all the richness. Some of the contributions are short, and others lengthy.

Trevor Hart’s contribution, ‘Why Imagination Matters’, declares that the presumption behind this book is that imagination certainly matters, particularly in times of crisis, including the COVID pandemic, war, and climate change. Imagination does not only matter to artists, although their work is bound to the imagination. In times of crisis, scientists, medical professionals, bureaucrats, and many others also bring imagination to problem-solving so that the result can benefit society.

Lyn McCredden, in writing ‘Imagination and the Sacred’, explores ‘the sacred’ as a sense of reality that embraces the places and times where individuals and communities encounter meaning. Australian secularism decries the need for religion for moral or social benefits, but in examining literature post-1950, McCredden delineates the presence of ‘the sacred’ being firmly present. She uses the experience of Nick Cave, a contemporary musician who has suffered and shared his profound and personal grief, and how he links his pain in growing to know the impermanence of things with illumination. The pain helped him enter into the transcendent, and McCredden links that to the experience of Patrick White. These are powerful connections being made within Australian culture.

Libby Byrne looks at the reality of being a professional artist and what that means to herself and those who encounter her works. She briefly reviews the artist’s place in society over time and culture to show that the postmodern artist is part of a set of shifting identities. In the past, the artist did not often sign their work as it was done for ‘the glory of God’ at the behest of a religious institution. Now, the artist’s identity in the public space has a completely different social and economic relationship. Byrne dwells on the Brooklyn Art Library’s collection of 50,000 artist sketchbooks and what it means to be included in such a collection in the public sphere.

Trish Watts, in ‘Every Life Can Sing’, describes her experience in Cambodia, where she sought to help the people who had lost their songlines because of the oppression suffered under the regime of Pol Pot. Watts is a professional singer and Voice Movement Therapy practitioner and accepted the challenge to help rebuild the voice of the people. Only fragments of the culture were left because ninety per cent of the artists, musicians, teachers, doctors, and other professionals had been eradicated. To rebuild the voice and the imagination that could once again voice hope in a crushed country is indeed a healing experience.

Steve Bevis writes about Ida Nangala Granites, a senior Warlpiri woman caught between the two worlds of Alice Springs and her home country of Yuendumu in the Tanami Desert. Ida re-enacts her truth, her participation in her Dreaming, through her paintings. Everything in her paintings is symbolic. She paints within the same reality as her ancestors; everything is expressed through the symbolism of who she is in her country. Ida is economically marginalised and sometimes cannot afford art materials. However, in this crisis and through her imagination, she helps others see and grow in understanding of her country and people.

Rod Pattenden writes about the art of George Gittoes, setting his commentary on the return of the arts to a socially and ethically responsible realm. For much of the twentieth century, art focussed on what is fashionable and avant-garde in an economy dominated ruthlessly in some places by art critics. In a world where horror images and violence dominate and intend to unsettle our society, art is needed in the action of social renewal and ethical behaviour. War and climate change have certainly exposed the need for seers. Pattenden has long worked with George Gittoes and has valuable access to his methods, art, and capacity to use his imagination in conflict areas. He can show how Gittoes can be seen as a prophet and mystic in his ‘role that values actions towards provoking awareness, creating change, and offering hope in social contexts’.

This collection of writings ranges in depth and focus to bring a richness of cultural awareness and imaginative power that brings hope and value to our culture through the interactions and power of artists.


Dr Angela McCarthy is an adjunct Senior Lecturer at the University of Notre Dame Australia and lives in Wadjuck country of the Noongar nation. Her primary research interest is theology and art, and she is the Chairperson of the Mandorla Art Award.

A Resurrection Triptych

In 2014, the ‘broken Christ’ crucifix that Michael Galovic had brought with him from Yugoslavia in 1990 was used as the core in his creation of an image of the desolation and humanity of Christ as evoked in his anguished cry from the cross and translated as, ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ These are also the opening words of Psalm 22. The juxtapositioning of the broken Christ with the lances of Diego Velázquez’s The Surrender of Breda (1634–35) highlights the sense of defeat and desolation as well as the continuing threat of violence. As Galovic notes:

These lances, for me, feature as an ominous foreboding symbol of ‘empire’, or system, ready and capable of destroying any human.

The image is one of almost utter desolation; light from no discernible outside source illuminating Christ’s face.

Shortly after the work’s installation in Our Lady Help of Christians Church, Rosemeadow, in February 2023, the parish priest, Father Christopher Sarkis, suggested that it might form part of a triptych. Having seen a medieval manuscript’s illustration of the resurrection, he felt that this depiction would be suitable as the final image. Galovic suggested that the first item could portray Christ’s crucifixion and death through the imagery of the Arma Christi, and the head of Christ is based on the Shroud of Turin in the lower part of the image.

Left panel: Michael Galovic, Arma Christi with the Shroud of Turin, 2023. Egg tempera on linen on board, 120 x 90 cm. Our Lady Help Of Christians Church, Rosemeadow, Australia. Central panel: Michael Galovic, Lord, O Lord, why hast thou forsaken me?!, 2014. Mixed media on board, 120 x 90 cm. Our Lady Help Of Christians Church, Rosemeadow, Australia. Right panel: Michael Galovic, The Resurrection, 2023. Egg tempera and gold on linen on board, 120 x 90 cm. Our Lady Help Of Christians Church, Rosemeadow, Australia.

The completed work would thus contain a central contemporary work in muted tones, a first panel drawing on images of objects coming from a collection that has been a part of Christian iconography with its central image, the crucifix, having been used since the fourth century CE and a third panel based on a medieval manuscript. This seemingly disparate grouping also needed to be created in a way that would form a coherent whole. While having a linear structure in time that covered the period of Christ’s betrayal through to his resurrection and empty tomb, it also needed to have links established through the use of colour and form.

In the Arma Christi, the upper register highlights the betrayal of Christ and the mockery and savagery that attended his crucifixion. As with the central image, it references Psalm 22.16b–18:

[T]hey bound my hands and feet.
I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.

Christ’s final words from the cross – ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’ (Lk 23.46) – with their tranquillity and faith, are embodied in the lower image, based on the Shroud of Turin, which, irrespective of its authenticity, forms a depiction of the final aspect of Christ’s human role in salvation.

In contrast to the violent instruments of betrayal, humiliation, and torture against their fiery background, it is a wonderfully expressive portrayal of calmness and completion. There is a great gentleness in the muted tones and careful delineation of the features, overlaid by the delicate treatment of the weaving of the cloth.

However, there is also a linking through colour, with the blue tones shown especially in the rooster, whip, and lance head in the top register being subsumed into the blue depiction of Christ’s face below. These two colour tones of blue and vermilion flow through to the central panel. In ‘Eloi, Eloi’, they appear in muted tones in the rocks foregrounding the spears, with the blue used on the image of the broken Christ.

They are then developed vibrantly in the final panel, which depicts two images associated with the resurrection. The vivid vermilion and oranges both frame the upper and lower panels depicting Christ’s resurrection and the myrrh-bearing women who came to anoint Christ’s body and form a significant part of each of the images.

The figure of the resurrected Christ in the top panel, surrounded by a golden-rayed mandorla, connects this image with the sacred, while the deeper tones used on the garments of the sleeping soldiers evoke Roman costumes.

In the lower image, the treatment of the angel at the tomb, with its flame-like wings and fiery countenance, creates a sense of otherness that is accentuated by the luminous white and gold of the robe. It also resonates with the garments of the two holy women closest to the tomb. Throughout both images, orange and vermilion tones highlight the fruitfulness of the trees while also forming contrasting highlights to the use of blue beneath them on the varying rock formations.

The interplay of colours creates a harmony that works beautifully throughout to unite the three images. But that is only one of its aspects. The top register of the first image, with its strong orange and vermilion tones highlighting instruments of torture and mockery, also evokes the fiery infernos of medieval hell-mouths and Renaissance depictions of hell. The contemporary image of the broken Christ, with its background imagery of war and defeat, highlights the bleakness of destruction. Yet, in the final image, all of these aspects are subsumed into the vibrancy and vividness of Christ’s resurrection, in which even the sleeping Roman soldiers had a place.

The Triptych is a tribute to both creativity and flexibility of form. In bringing together aspects of Christianity from different eras, cultures, and perspectives, it focuses on Christ’s sacrifice to redeem humanity. Each of the individual works evokes a different perspective, and through these images, the viewer is given a sense of the beauty and complexity of responses to the crucifixion and resurrection throughout the history of Christian art.


Kerrie Magee has an MA in Medieval Studies and lives in the area of the Wallumedegal People. Michale Galovic is a renowned iconographer living in the area of the Darkinjung People.

Rituals of Embodied Knowing

Sarah Tomasetti, Rivus (detail). Fresco, pigment, muslin, and encaustic wax. From the Birrarungbanner series, 2022–23. Photo: Emma Byrnes.

The exhibition Rituals of Embodied Knowing brings together ten established artists with diverse forms of practice that engage plants, video, sound, movement, painting, drawing, and installation. These artists have been working together with an academic group on the project ‘Spiritual Understanding in a Secular Age: Engaging Art as Religious Ritual’, funded by the Templeton Religion Trust.

The project conceptualises art-making as a form of knowledge or understanding that aims to make contact with various aspects of reality such as the natural world, human history, and our individual selves, thus considering how art-making practices in a secular context might, when seen in this way, share similarities with religious ritual.

Academics from a variety of fields such as history, anthropology, psychology, sociology and theology, have identified how key dimensions of each of these practices – movement, time, media, subtraction, invention, and attention – are also leveraged in religious rituals to make contact with reality.

The project calls on us to see art-making in a new way, and has also challenged academics to see aspects of reality in new ways through engaging art-making itself as a means of knowing and understanding. This exhibition invites viewers to consider whether and how the works included could be thought about as ritual-like in their unique ways of employing embodied experience.

This exhibition also launches the new CBONE Gallery, combining the previous Eastgate Gallery and Chapman and Bailey project space into one entity that will show a range of contemporary visual art.

Joining the project artists, Heather Hesterman, Adam Lee, Louise Weaver, Dominic Redfern, Harry Nankin, Chris Bond, Peter Ellis, Mark Newbound, Live Particle, and Sarah Tomasetti, are Yolngu artist Djirrirra Wunnumarra and emerging artist Uma Christensen.

An edited volume of essays emerging from the project will be published in 2024.

Exhibition Dates: 18 February – 18 March 2023.

Where: CBONE Gallery, 1C Marine Parade, Abbotsford, Melbourne.

Live Particle (Angela Clarke and Camilla Maling) will be presenting a series of Soma Scores using their unique sensory objects to generate embodied experience on Saturday 11 March.

There will be a discussion panel and closing event on Saturday 18 March.

Wes Campbell: Disturbing Illusions of Peace

Wes Campbell, Silence II, nd.

Last month, Jason Goroncy spoke at the opening of an exhibition of Wes Campbell’s artwork. Wes is a theologian, artist, and (retired) Minister of the Word in the Uniting Church in Australia. An edited version of his talk is now available on the ABC’s Religion and Ethics portal.