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"I am a poor man and of little worth,

who is labouring in that art that

God has given me in order to extend

my life as long as possible."


- Michelangelo

Tommy Christopher Canning.
I was born on Christmas day in 1969 into a Catholic family; the youngest of the five sons of John and Mary Canning. Baptized a few days later in St. John Bosco’s Church in New Stevenston, a Lanarkshire village located 12 miles south of the city of Glasgow in the west of Scotland, which is where I spent my childhood years. We lived in an area of the west of Scotland, which at that time was heavily industrialized with the Ravenscraig steel works, factories and the British Oxygen Chemical plant. Due to the heavily polluted air it meant that many of the people of that area suffered from an assortment of respiratory ailments. I was often laid low as a child with chronic bronchitis.

Due to a deteriorating heart condition, my father died of a fatal heart attack when I had just turned 4 years old. Naturally this was a great loss to our mother and my four older brothers who were also still quite young.

Looking back though it seemed I enjoyed a happy childhood and from my earliest years I was often found drawing with a pen or pencil, on scraps of paper. I caught the bug for drawing from my older brothers who were gifted artistically themselves and who would always help and encourage me in my earliest drawing attempts. Typical I suppose of a young boy growing up in the seventies and eighties my drawings consisted in Disney characters as well as my favourite comic book superheroes. Thanks to a good Catholic education at St. Patrick’s primary school, I drew my fair share of events in the life of Christ, especially the Crucifixion, Nativity scenes and so on.

In my teen years I was intent on pursuing a career as an illustrator for comic books. At high School I had dabbled a little in animation and had caught the bug for that also. Science fiction and fantasy were the realms in which I was heavily influenced in and I viewed the possibility of attending art school with that end in mind.

However due to various circumstances I was unable to attend art school full time at the time I was intending to, so I applied for and received a government grant that enabled me to set myself up with a modest studio at home as a freelance illustrator. For reasons of employment, my family had moved to another part of the country, further north, and made our home in an old style country house in a small village of Clynder. This overlooked the Gareloch near the small sea-side town of Helensburgh, not far from a popular tourist spot, Loch Lomond. This is where I still work and live today. At that time though, still raw, inexperienced and a little naive, and with a limited portfolio, I saw that opportunities for the kind of work I thought I could do were hard to obtain. I began to wonder if I ought to look for some other way to make a living. 

By age nineteen though I had gained some notable commissions and achievements. With the help of my older brother Patrick we had been successful in having works published by a major Scottish publisher, Mainstream Publishing. These were comic book adaptations of the history of two famous Scottish and English soccer teams, Glasgow Celtic and Newcastle United.  A great learning experience, it was at the same time a mammoth undertaking that was as much physically demanding as it was mentally due to the sheer number of hours of drawing to meet deadlines. We were somewhat disillusioned with the poor monetary return for all our hard work. Still at age nineteen, I went with my family on Holiday to Rome. I was greatly inspired by the awesome beauty in the works of Michelangelo, especially the Sistine Chapel, the works of Raphael, the Vatican museums, and the architectural Majesty of St Peter’s in the works of Bernini. It was a redefining moment in my artistic direction and had a profound impact in my work from then on.

This new kind of seeing slowly opened me to an awakening and greater appreciation of our Catholic Heritage and ancient faith, and the unique universality and beauty of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. This journey led me to the beauty of Marian devotion, and through the inspiration of the Blessed Mother, she led family and myself to the spiritual diary of St. Faustina Kowalska and the message of Divine Mercy.

As my interest in ‘Sacred Art’ grew and intrigued by the request of Our Lord when He said to St. Faustina, ‘Paint a picture according to the pattern you see…’ my paintings and illustrations over the past 10 years have included a number of subjects relating to the mystical visions of St. Faustina. Other paintings included scenes from the Passion that were inspired largely by the powerful preaching and writing of the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen. I have also produced a number of works of The Madonna who is the ‘Tota Pulchra’ as portrayed by countless artists down the centuries, and who, as the philosopher Dante contemplates among the splendours of Paradise as ‘Beauty that was joy in the eyes of all the other saints’. 

The Power of Images.

In our secularised culture of today saturated by images of every kind, the term ‘Beauty’ and ‘Image’ are sometimes very nebulous words meaning different things to different people. Due to the advent of the entertainment industry, music, movies, T.V. and magazines, advertising and the Internet, we are seeing a bombardment of images on a daily basis. Many of which promote models of life without God. It has had the cumulative effect of averting our eyes away from the purpose and beauty for which they were created and the One who created them. The images we see can form our attitudes and shape our culture. The advertising industry, mindful of the power of imagery tries to define what is our correct image and what is truly beautiful. But have we become de-sensitised in the process, especially our young people? What about the sense of the Eternal? At a time when the mass media has images of every kind competing for our attention, it has coincided with a decline in beauty and new images in our Churches. Many of our churches have become very bare and sanitized buildings and many a Catholic home today is devoid of any images of the Sacred, even a Crucifix.

The “Beauty” that Saves. 

In 1999, Pope John Paul II wrote a beautiful letter to artists, in which he expressed the hopes for artists in the third millennium. ‘May your art help to affirm that true beauty which, as a glimmer of the spirit of God, will transfigure matter, opening the human soul to the sense of the eternal’. And in another place he wrote: ‘ Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savor life and to dream of the future. That is why the beauty of created things can never fully satisfy. It stirs that hidden nostalgia for God, which a lover of beauty like St. Augustine could express in incomparable terms: ‘Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you!’ (John Paul II, letter to artists. 1999).

Encouraged by this letter of the Holy Father, it is my hope that through my work, I can continue in a small way to promote and contribute to a rebirth and renewal of interest in Catholic Sacred Art in the Church and in the home. I always strive to attain the highest standards in the quality of art I produce and hope this will inspire people to rediscover the value of a beautiful work of art, and see the goodness, beauty and truth of our Catholic heritage. I can attest to the power of sacred images and the impact it had in my own life.  At age nineteen standing in St. Peter’s basilica in wonder and awe at the beauty the love of God can inspire.  May many more people, young and old, experience that beauty so old and so new.


God Bless,

Tommy Canning.

If you would like to commission a painting for your church, retreat house or home then contact me here