Tommy Christopher Canning.
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
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
If you would like to
commission a painting for your church, retreat house or home then