I was in the mind-set before Friday's news of the Paris attacks began to break, worrying about an old friend who has to say goodbye to his comatose, dying sister, and wants to know what he should say (this is more important to him than whether she can hear him or not). Then came the news of all those loved ones who will never go home, where no last words can be spoken because that opportunity has been suddenly and violently taken away.
I spent the best part of a year recently, working on MAP OF THE WORLD, responding to those early modern altar pieces showing Earth, Heaven and Hell in glorious detail. The lowest tier of my piece deals with hellish subject matter. Some images show the private hells of unhappiness and addiction but it is pictures of ideological atrocities that dominate. These include a topical portrait of Jihadi John, alongside the neatly stacked skulls of the Killing Fields, torture scenes at Abu Ghraib and the train tracks into Auschwitz. Hovering in the sky between skulls and poppy is a newly invented hybrid character made up from the symbols of all major religions. I include them in hell because, whatever the good and moral intentions of organised faiths in theory, their practice has unleashed many of our most unspeakable actions as human beings.