Artist says 'creative worms' guided him

Upon completion, painter Ben Taylor's Untitled became The Host (above).
Upon completion, painter Ben Taylor's Untitled became The Host (above).PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

DARTMOOR (United Kingdom) • The painting was not an image of anything in particular, just an abstract confluence of psychedelic colours and worm-like patterns inside a perfectly round circle.

Ben Taylor did not like it much and he said he did not know why he painted it. But the worm-like patterns represent years of spiralling into unknown illness that had driven the 47-year-old painter and musician to depression, sometimes even thoughts of suicide.

Taylor gave up on the painting and, in 2014, shelved the unfinished work he had simply called Untitled.

In 2015, he was diagnosed with Loiasis, commonly known as African eye worm, a condition caused by the parasite Loa loa.

He contracted it after spending several days in the jungles of Gabon, a Central African country where infections caused by Loa loa had persisted for years.

While recovering, Taylor began painting again and, while rummaging in his home studio, he came across Untitled, the unfinished work he had shelved earlier.

That day, he finally realised what it looked like, he said.

The perfectly round shape was the iris, and the dark, worm-like patterns converging in the darkened middle form the pupil.

He grabbed his paints and brush and began to finish it. He drew the lashes and the sclera, or the white part of the eye.

He painted over the middle, so that the intricate worm-like patterns look like spiralling galaxies disappearing into the dark pupil.

He added the worms - long, white and nearly transparent images slithering from the eyelids.

Untitled became The Host.

The Host is on this month's cover of Emerging Infectious Diseases, a journal published monthly by United States' Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Taylor is convinced that the parasites that inhabited his body did not only cause his health to fail. He said they also affected his mental health, even his creative process, eerily guiding what he created in his studio.

He has since fully recovered and has dubbed his former squatters "creative worms". Looking back, he "wonders who the artist is, really".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2018, with the headline 'Artist says 'creative worms' guided him'. Print Edition | Subscribe