Ship’s altar

No matter what your religious affiliations, when you are a thousand miles away from the nearest land and the sea is showing you what it can do, a deep sense of awe invades you soul. Sailors are not particularly religious, not in an overtly showy way, but deep inside they know that we are not the top of the heap, that there are forces much greater than us, and that it’s a good idea not to provoke them by a careless blasphemy.

Over the years I made a number of small wooden altars to cater to this ill defined humble awe. The one pictured bellow lives on “Kehaar” as the boat altar, dedicated to nothing in particular. Humble thanks for letting me come back ashore. It is laminated out of secondhand ipil, polished with bees’ wax, painted with acrylics.

Tibetan mandala from my wooden journals makes appearance again.

What you depict inside the altar will depend on your religious leaning. I made some with Russian Orthodox icons, some with plain trees, some had nothing painted inside. “Kehaar’s” altar is still developing. I did the first layer when I started painting, so the Unicorn from my “Ophir” painting is there,  also the magic tamarind tree and a small fire in the desert camp of the Unicorn herders.

The second layer appeared when I started illustrating Burton’s Arabian Nights. Boat in the top right corner is “Kehaar”, my Chinese junk. The other boat, star ferry tethered to the sky palace, is an Arabian dhow.

All my painting is dated. I can’t paint the same thing ten years later; I am a very different man from what I was then. Looking at my older work I can remember how I felt about things then.

Ship’s altar on “Kehaar” is about average size. I have made a few smaller ones, and one much bigger, but that one intimidates me, and I did not find enough courage to paint into it, yet. One day it will become the ship’s altar for “Son of a gun”, trawler we are living on.

Photos by Nat from

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