An Everyday Act of Unconscious MERCY

On a recent visit to Madrid, I came across two small medieval paintings; each of which depicted one of the Seven Acts of Mercy. This encounter inspired me to begin work on series seven major canvases dealing with the same subject, using imagery from the contemporary world.

However, it was reading an account of one young woman’s personal experience that confirmed the importance and universal relevance of this subject, a subject that although specifically Christian in its genesis is an idea shared by all the world’s major religions and is at the heart of any civilised society.

As I remember it, the report centred on a young woman who was telling of her experience as she travelled in the funeral cortege that was taking her grandfather to his final resting place. In my memory she told us that it was a hot sunny day, the city streets full of people rushing hither and thither each pre-occupied with their own business, completely oblivious to her deep sadness. She said, again as I remember, that she felt completely alone, completely numb and lost within a sense of the meaningless of an uncaring world. And then, just as they were passing a greengrocer’s stall, a young lad in a hoodie, stopped serving his customer, set down the paper bag and for a brief moment stood, hand clasped, and bowed his head, before returning to finish the transaction. Suddenly, that one gesture, that moment of reflective stillness made sense of the sad loss the young woman was experiencing.

Ghislaine Howard is a painter of the human condition and Woman of the Year 2008