Emma Geliot's picture

The Horse with the Human Heart, John Abell,  detail

A child is born with a hole where his heart should be. A vacuum where his soul should be. The only way to cure the baby is to find the horse with the human heart and give it to the child. But first the horse needs to be found...Ric Bower findsa powerful symmetry between subject and process in John Abell's story in woodcuts at Oriel Mwldan

The Horse with the Human Heart, John Abell,  detail


Have you ever read Dante's Divine Comedy?

No? Neither have I. But I have thumbed enthusiastically through Gustave Dor s mid nineteenth century engravings for Inferno, reproduced in a moth-eared, yellowing tome that had been rotting quietly, untouched for years, at the back of some damp library. That same intimate connection, between process and story - the palpable sense of mystery -is present in John Abell's body of large scale woodcuts, pinned directly to the wall of Oriel Mwldan.

The protagonist in the narrative is a father seeking to save his son, whose heart had been fatally pierced by a serpent's tail. He sets off on an epic journey to find the 'Horse with a Human Heart'. Abell's fingers dance rhythmically across the wood to bring to life the father's trials in this perspective-free, International Gothic-styled, virtuoso opera of mark making.

003The Horse with the Human Heart, John Abell

The father's hat becomes a halo and rather than the champion'slance he carries a guitar; he witnesses Guernica-esque bombers and strange mythical creatures and his way is lit by Swansea streetlights. Although reminiscent of Holbein the Younger's Dance of Death, Abell inflicts multiple stab wounds on his salvaged wooden block. His tale is recounted through many brutal incisions, and so the medium becomes one with the message. When he renders Death riding a beast across the sky, the teeth, the baby, the fire, the haloes, the fields of crops and the sallow silent souls are seen with same stabbing strokes.

004The Horse with the Human Heart, John Abell

In the arena of accursed modernity Mr Abell would have been patronisingly relegated to Art Brut or folk art just for the crime of telling stories. But thankfully the na ve arrogance of the modern myth, which tried to pretend that art was pure, rarified and separate, has at last, been publicly debagged.

Mr Abell is the genuine article and I am a total fan.


The Horse With the Human Heart is at Oriel Mwldan, at Theatr Mwldan, Bath House Rd, Cardigan SA43 1JY

Exhibition runs until 21 March 2015

All images: The Horse with the Human Heart, John Abell. The first two images are details.