September 8, 2016
The past year has been an incredible journey, but it has also been a personally challenging and difficult time. Training as a therapist means noticing and thinking about my own psychological defences, as well as thinking about clinical theory in relation to others. Being in my own personal therapy which can be uncomfortable and frustrating as well as helpful in the long run. Training and continuing my work at the hospital was exhausting, I was so tired that the summer break was about resting and healing. I hoped to do some making over the summer but truthfully I felt uninspired, I allowed myself this time. Speaking to a friend I said that I felt I needed to withdraw for a while. In the last few months I have moved house and changed job, but now things feel more settled I hope to start making again.
In the moving process I decided to let go of some of my old sketchbooks, many of them were full of memories of studying my first degree. All of the fun we had and the passion I felt for art. I realised however that in order to make something new, I needed to downsize my sketchbook collection. I felt that keeping all of them was like keeping older parts of myself, it was time to renew and let go. A scary but exciting thought.
I managed to fit the sketchbooks that I am keeping in this box.
I also went through the art work that I made in the experiential group as part of the course and photographed it. The group was important to me and helped me to think about difficult issues over the year.
Being an Island
War and Racism
Fluid Boundaries- Feeling Overwhelmed
Therapist Trying to Reach Their Client
Therapists Touching on Depression
Tiara of Qualified Therapist
July 21, 2015
In my job working with psychiatric patients I am always on the look out for new ideas and arts and crafts projects. After experimenting with paper weaving at work last year, I did my own paper weaving at home using old envelopes, magazines and wrapping papers. I later added paint and collaged onto the surfaces before cutting the paper into thin strips. The effect is quite interesting, and the possibilities of combining weaving with mixed media are vast and exciting. I will have to try some more of this soon.
July 10, 2015
As part of my job as an occupational therapy assistant with psychiatric inpatients, I help to run Art Therapy groups every Monday with an art psychotherapist. While patients in the group are encouraged to use art to think about themselves or their current feelings, I also make art work to model to others in the group and to encourage others to try different art materials. Many of the adults that we work with may not have engaged in any art making since school, or even in any art making at all. At the end of the art making time patients are invited to share how it felt to make the art, and to discuss it as much as they feel comfortable to. I however, use the art making time to doodle and to think about group dynamics. My own work is not usually shared with the group, but if I am asked to share it, I discuss my enjoyment of using different art materials as well as their therapeutic and mindful qualities. I made these doodles in art therapy groups over the last two years but only recently thought of sharing them, some of my doodles are probably still at work somewhere, while others may have been thrown away. I like that they were made in a short amount of time, and that making ‘good’ art work was not a priority.
May 31, 2015
Being off work this week has left me with a lot of extra time on my hands! Hence my increased productivity! I did some ink and water colour experiments a few months ago (working from my imagination rather than from life) after visiting the recent Marlene Dumas exhibition, these new drawings are a kind of continuation on a larger scale. I also found an older mixed media piece which I have added more collage and drawing to.
The images are partly abstract, partly figurative and include figures as I have tried to convey human dreamlike experience and altered states of consciousness. The figures are surrounded by flowing shapes and are without detail to create a sense of ambiguity.
Describe the concepts behind your art work, and how these have changed over the years
Art has always been the most important thing in my life, my passion for it reflected through my growing knowledge of art and artists, interest in contemporary art and also in my own artwork. My connection with art stems from a very young age; as a child I was always busy making collages, drawing and sewing. I have always searched for a deeper meaning through my artwork, and art has always been something that has driven me, giving me the greatest sense of fulfilment.
At it’s core, my art work has always been focused around both identity and consciousness; what it feels like to be ‘human’. This self-reflective and narrative style of working has helped me to understand the healing qualities that making art work brings. Through image making, I have come to realise that my art work has been a tool to help me better understand myself, and to enable me to come to terms with difficult feelings and events that have occurred throughout my life. My visual diaries that I kept for many years acted as form of personal therapy, an outlet.
This understanding lead me to my current role as an occupational therapy assistant, working alongside both occupational therapists and other therapeutic professionals. In my job, I explore creative potential with individuals, looking at how this can improve their mental health, and lead them also to a sense of self-awareness and unity. Later this year, I will be studying an Art Psychotherapy Masters course at Goldsmiths University in London. My current art work follows my own personal journey before training, and inevitably touches on the experiences of others that I encounter.
While my earlier work focused on the theme of portraiture, in both conventional and nonconventional depictions, my recent work is more abstract and heavily influenced by my work in mental health services. The connection between the two being a fascination of humanity and human experience. My interest in image making has not only helped me become an improved communicator, but also through my experiences understand how art is a central tool for human interaction and emotional expression.
Through my recent work, I have explored the nature of consciousness, as well as the altered states of mind people experience through illness, drugs, hallucinations and dreams. My art has allowed me to contemplate intense emotional states experienced through my work with psychiatric patients. While I have worked with patients suffering from neurological and psychiatric illnesses, I have also seen others afflicted by multiple traumas and losses. I feel that this is something that we all as humans can relate to, and I hope that my work can speak to people on a deeper level. Dreams, hallucinations, or the intricacies in our neurological processes are not concrete experiences, but abstract to us and difficult to share with others in any true sense.
I wondered if by sharing my interpretations, I could communicate ideas and experiences that would be more difficult to do so verbally. I side with the notion that each one of us are on a spectrum of mental health, and my understanding has only deepened through working. As a nature byproduct of my role’s close proximity to the patients, at times I have absorbed some of their unresolved and unprocessed material and feelings. Through this, getting in touch with something deep and sometimes disturbing can be quite alarming, perhaps dipping a metaphorical toe into another’s sense of reality. While I feel that my art has expressed my own thoughts and ideas on these complex subjects, only through others can I discover if the works can hold shared meanings, understanding and experience.
Although I strongly believe that my own artistic expression is a personal one, it would be hard to refute the influence, whether subconsciously or directly, of the patients on my expression. This would be through both transference and counter transference. When leading art classes for the patients on the wards, they share with me aspects of their inner worlds through the art, I then contemplate these interactions. I feel that much of this happens at an unconscious level.
How do you represent abstract experiences in the physical medium of painting and collage?
I began this body of work through the use of visual diaries. I found concertina sketchbooks an effective way to experiment with ideas, and give a sense of a journey. These sketchbooks have inspired larger art works on canvas and paper, the themes explored and expanded upon.
Primarily, I use my own experiences of dreams and hallucinations; particularly hypnopompic hallucinations and the stages that I experience before drifting to sleep. The flashing images and surreal content does not make sense on waking, but in this state one is more aware of the subconscious and its processes. Not only is collage a medium that I have used for many years, I feel it is also a way to work impulsively and automatically, linking well to the subconscious. Through making these works, I quickly identify images that I find both appealing and disturbing. The process of the art making is also one of working from within, often adding layers without knowing where the image is going. By trusting an ‘inner sense’, the spontaneity of splashing and dripping paint feels intuitive. With an idea of a greater theme, such as dreams or psychosis, the process of the art is in a state of flow.
As well as using images in collage, I have also been using words, exploring the use of language and its fragmentation. Moreover, with such experiences words can become an irrelevant way of recording. I have used different colour combinations and layering as a way to suggest confusion, euphoria and dreamlike experiences in psychosis and other altered and extreme emotional states. The multiplicity of colours and layers are also an attempt to reflect our state of flux and continuous change in experience.
Through further research into neurology and visiting the Wellcome Collection, I became heavily influenced by Neurological photographs and CT scans. In my work, the scientific imagery links the abstract and physical aspects of being. Recent research in attachment theory and neurology has underlined the physical impact that mental illnesses and trauma have on the brain. I was both intrigued and inspired by the beautiful and intricate patterns of neurones and cells. Many of the circular formations of my works are inspired by these shapes. Circles in a broader sense are repeated throughout nature, and have a quality of wholeness and of sense of self. Many of my works feature mandalas, an archetype present in religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, circular patterns symbolising a balance in the universe.
Recently, I’ve drawn inspiration from mixed media artist Chris Ofili. I’m attracted to his innovative use of collage and creation of new imagery. I hope to explore some of his mixed media techniques further, such as the use of polyester resin and other unconventional art materials. His experimental use of colour and sense of freedom has gripped me since the first time I saw it in person at the Tate Modern. I feel that through studying his work I have learnt a great deal.
Chris Ofili, Third Eye Vision, 1999
Oil, acrylic, paper collage, glitter, polyester resin, map pins and elephant dung on linen
July 27, 2012
What are your favourite mediums to work in and why?
My favourite mediums to work in are collage and painting. The former is an exciting, flexible and instant method of working; it is especially suitable for linking words and visual associations in my own image making. I use film in the same way as collage as a means to use multiple-imagery, and create a certain mood, when exploring any given subject. Painting, for myself, is an equally flexible medium, allowing moods and feelings to be explored in a more abstracted way in terms of mark making and colour.
What are your stylistic influences?
This is an intricate question to answer as I take my inspiration from many contemporary and traditional influences. Both Chris Ofili and Robert Rauschenberg demonstrate the possibilities of mixed-media. Equally Jenny Saville, Lucien Freud and Edvard Munch have influenced my painting style and variety of mark-making. Colourists Henri Matisse, Edgar Degas, and more recently Allen Merion Ginsberg and Steven Shearer, have influenced my psychedelic palette.
Briefly describe how your practice has changed and evolved both conceptually and in terms of medium
While my earlier work attempted to combine collage and oil-painting coherently, my most recent work focuses on expression through paint and innovative use of colour. In some aspects my paint application is informed by my collage skills in its application. The theme of portraiture in both conventional and nonconventional depictions has been a constant throughout my work.
What are your conceptual influences?
Much of my work is autobiographical, and therefore partly inspired by other self-portraiture. The self-reflective works of Frida Kahlo and Tracey Emin have been a great source of inspiration, as well as Surrealist and Dada techniques such as automatic writing and Dada-poetry. As my work focuses on people, my own life and relationships inspire me when depicting others.
What is your most recent work about and what does it attempt to explore?
My recent work explores the idea of portraiture as interpretation. Such a project also questions the notion of identity. The series of paintings is an experiment in which, as a woman, I painted not only a female model but also a close friend of a different ethnicity. I wanted to see how these elements would become visible through my interpretations and secondly if my image-making would change as a result of this. I looked into the idea of metaphorical and abstract portraiture as a way to suggest or depict a personality. Through this piece of writing, I will further explore and research the concepts of both my past and present work, giving a descriptive account of my artistic journey.
Metaphorical and Narrative Self-Portraiture
This section aims to show the link between my early work and other modern and post-modern artists who used alternative methods in self-expression.
My portraiture has always been focused around both identity and consciousness; what it feels like to be ‘human’. The self-reflective and narrative style of my early work can be partly attributed to the artistic climate of Postmodernism. In terms of post-modern portraiture, ‘there has been a greater self-consciousness on the part of artists about the implications of the age, gender, ethnicity .. and nationality’ in which ‘the notion of identity’ has been ‘extensively and rigorously examined.’
My early work used writing, sketchbook and diary keeping as means of self-exploration; inspired by the artists Edvard Munch, Frida Kahlo and Tracey Emin.
‘No longer should you paint interiors of men reading and women sitting. There must be living beings who breathe and feel and love and suffer.’
Edvard Munch, the first of my creative influences, worked through the late 19th to the early 20th century. Actively observing the world around him, he commented on his experiences through painterly interpretation. His troubled life was tainted by bouts of depression. One of his most famous paintings and one of the most iconic images in modern popular culture, ‘The Scream’, symbolised his feelings of anxiety and terror. The distorted figure can be read as a metaphorical self-portrait; Munch’s painting was personal escapism and a self-embodiment. The way he recorded his feelings through paint appealed to me; and became one of the reasons that I paint.
Frida Kahlo like Munch recorded her own personal anguish through paint. Her technique, however, did not involve expressive colours or brush-strokes but a more realistic way of painting. Her imagery was surreal yet she stated that she was ‘recording her own reality’. Most of her paintings were self-portraits but simultaneously reflected her through added symbolism. I was instantly drawn to her paintings after seeing ‘What the Water Gave Me’, described as ‘a symbolic work illustrating various events of the artist’s life and incorporating numerous elements from other works.’
The work showed me all her joyful and painful experiences. Although I hadn’t experienced trauma to the same extent as Kahlo in my short lifetime, I was able to see the benefits of visually recording personal experiences. Kahlo’s self-portraits and published visual diary were inspirational due to their brutal honestly. The discovery of her diary inspired me to keep my own visual journal full of photographs, drawings and collages.
Tracey Emin, the most modern of my early influences, records her own experiences through making personal objects and small drawings. Also inspired by Edvard Munch, ‘Emin’s artworks have embodied what can only be described as an intensity that mirrors the life experiences to which they refer.’
Similar to Emin’s art, my own work incorporates small fragments of writing, visually reminiscent of diaries and sketchbooks.
My Art Foundation project continued my exploration of metaphorical self-portraiture. The series of paintings and collages involved imagery from every aspect of my life. This varied from my favourite music to my most deeply personal thoughts, memories, and feelings. The panels were arranged in a chronological line so the onlookers could read them like a book. This way of working was appropriate as it was a way to both let go of the past and further understand myself at this transitional and unpredictable age. My artwork was, in effect, a diary and exploration of my identity.
This section will focus on the change of direction in my work as I moved from self-portraiture to the depiction of others.
The project that immediately followed ‘The Morning after the Night Before’ was visually very different, taking form through painting rather than film and collage. The triptych painting titled ’19-21 Portland Street’ mirrored my experiences of the second year as it expressed both the intensity and discomfort of living in such a small space with such extraverted characters. In each canvas my image appeared but was never a central focus. The painting was a step away from my previous works as, although the work was primarily about my own experiences, it commented on the dynamic and dialogue of the people I lived with.
Year 3, Semester 1
At the beginning of the third year, my work attempted to depict others using the same narrative style as my own metaphorical self-portraiture. In doing this, I wanted to reveal aspects of my models that were not so apparent to others. The vulnerability I felt in exposing my inner thoughts and secrets meant my work was about something real. I wanted to see if I could recreate this through my depiction of others.
Instead of creating visual associations from my own words, I used elements of my recorded conversations with the models as inspiration. Inspired by decorative Gustav Klimt and Chris Ofili, I collaged these words from newspapers and magazines in an intricate manor. The words chosen by each person reflected on their experiences over the last week. The idea was that their feelings at that moment would be frozen in my image, and that the onlooker would understand more how it felt to be that depicted person, even if only for a second.
This idea of combining collage and painting was something that had interested me for a while, as I was previously inspired by the work of Rauschenberg and Paula Rego. While it suited my particular concept, it also seemed to be the solution to making my portfolio more visually coherent. Initially, I faced obstacles as I had become more accustomed to using oil paint rather than acrylics; the collage and oil paint were far from compatible. In order to overcome this, I planned both the painted and collaged parts of all my compositions and began experimenting with different ways of combining collage and painterly techniques. I tried bleaching tissue paper, collaging it onto smaller canvases and working with ink onto acrylic painted canvas, using the work of Edgar Degas and Henri Matisse as colour inspiration.
The series of works attempted to find both a common ground between collage and painting, and to represent others with the same aspect of consciousness. In retrospect, the paintings were successful compositionally but on the whole were still problematic. While I had discovered ways of combining collage and painterly elements, in terms of technique my work was unresolved. The large scale used in an attempt to make the collage work decoratively became one of the issues. It was difficult to see both the full-length figure and collaged words simultaneously.
The images were also troubling on conceptual level. Although I had tried to depict others in the same way I depicted myself, these representations now seemed less truthful. I realised that it was impossible to truly understand my subjects in the same way that I could understand myself. The portraits were a mixture of the first-hand experiences of the sitter and of my own visual interpretations. This clash of interests was absent in my earlier self-portraiture and is perhaps one of the reasons for its greater success. I thought about the impact of including words in an image, as such collaborations would leave less room for ambiguity.
I began to question the concept of interpretation in relation to portraiture. A portrait of any person involves an interpretation that differs to the sitter’s own self-image, or to any other interpretation. ‘We are not a materially constituted whole, identical for everyone, which each of us can examine like a list of specifications or a testiment; our social personality is a creation of other people’s thought.’
The artist’s interpretation of his subject is shaped by a number of aspects such as their relationship with the sitter, the physical or emotional characteristics of the sitter, the experience of the painting as well as their own stylistic artistic approach and personality.
‘In portraiture two fundamental aims come into conflict: the revelatory aim of faithfulness to the subject, and the creative aim of artistic expression.’
The idea that so many different factors could affect the overall image making fascinated me; this was the starting point for my exhibition module. Having decided to paint someone that I was close to in a more experimental and innovative way, I began by researching relevant artists and doing colour studies and drawings from life. By working more instinctively, I believed I would be able to access my use of colour and stylisation to find out which factors played a significant part in my own interpretation.
I am still interested in the possibilities of working with collage and painting but accept that this project was not an entirely successful endeavour. Deciding that my mixed media exploration would continue in the future, I focused more on innovative use of colour and brushstrokes to express myself through the exhibition module.
Portraiture and Interpretation
This section will review the original concepts and the experiences of my painting progression through the exhibition module.
The paintings of my friend Kayleigh began as an experiment to see how the context would affect the formal qualities of the works. Although this seemed like a risky tactic for the exhibition module, I came to accept that this was in the nature of my artistic approach. If the paintings were aesthetically unsuccessful, I would still use them as a method of recording my exploration of these concepts. Listing the possible influencing factors meant that I would later contextually analyse my work. The context in which the works were made was based upon our close friendship, shared gender, our respective ethnicities and relationship as artist and sitter. These things, along with my own style of painting, would shape the emerging image.
My paintings are portraits, but not in the most traditional sense of the definition often ‘tied to the idea of mimesis, or likeness.’
‘Cynthia Freeland defines a ‘portrait’ as a‘visual depiction of a living being as a unique individual, by means of an individually recognizable visage and an expression of inner life, implying a sense of self-identity, where the subject is complicit in the project and, at best, presented through the subject’s individual ‘essence’ or ‘air.’
The likeness in my portraits is largely a result of the sense of essence, expression and air that Freeland mentions in her definition. Over the last century portraiture has become far more stylised and abstracted; ‘a number of avant-garde artists produced portraits…that did not convey a likeness of their sitter in the usual sense,’ with this in mind I was open to the possibility of change and abstraction in my portraits.
My model and I had been close friends for a relatively short time before I asked to paint her.
Something about her intrigued me, and as I grew to know her more I discovered how layered and intricate she was as a woman and friend. I had not previously painted anyone nude outside of life-class, making the experience new for the both of us. I related to her as a woman and I feel this made me treat parts of her anatomy with sensitivity; our shared gender was part of our friendship’s dynamic. I wanted to paint her vulnerability; she was exposed physically as I was emotionally when sharing with the world my deepest darkest secrets in my earlier work. I wanted to delve into aspects less visible from the surface.
When considering our relationship I looked at several portraits by artists Lucien Freud and Maggi Hambling. The former’s brutally honest paintings, ‘through their uncompromising nudity, voyeristic viewpounts, and lack of flattery they remind the viewer of the inevitably intimate relationship between a portraitist and sitter.’
While his works were very animalistic, there is a sense of trust within the images. The latter’s portraits of her friend George Melly greatly contrast to Freud’s in that they are less realistic. My portraits of Kayleigh reveal more of what is under the surface. The work ‘George Melly’ (1998), ‘offers aspects of the performer’s persona: boisterous bon viveur, bisexual jazz singer, vaudevillian – the fetishist details of clothing and footwear both sexual and theatrical.’
In her paintings there is still a vague likeness, but there is more enphasisis on use of colour and brushmarks to create mood. In the exhibition George Always, Hambling created a sense of their relationship in depicting how he made her feel through paint.
At the beginning of the project, Kayleigh and I discussed our contrasting backgrounds. Although we were from identical British cultures, our ethnic roots were very different. Her darker skin and naturally afro-textured hair made painting her feel exotic and interesting. I looked at both Marlene Dumas and Paul Gauguin for inspiration. Through painting someone of a different ethnicity, I wanted to explore non-Caucasian portraiture. My colour studies from some of Gauguin’s paintings began my colour exploration. I wanted the elements of her ethnicity, and the excitement this brought me, to come through in my use of colour.
I found the colour combinations I discovered both beautiful and fresh. I had recently learnt to mix colours straight from the tube with palette knives, to use zinc white rather than titanium and to use more than one glass of turpentine for mixing and cleaning brushes. In using cleaner colours, it was easier to apply colour theory in my paintings and to use it to achieve exciting optical effects.
While the painting attempted to depict my response to Kayleigh, my heightened palette made people ask if the painting was, in fact, a self-portrait. While I felt my depiction of our relationship created a likeness, it was my very interpretation that others found removed this. When considering the connotations of my paintings, I decided to email an artist who had previously inspired me and asked him what the connotations of his own work were.
Email correspondence with Meirion Alan Ginsberg
‘In regards to your questions I think they are tough to answer. I suppose my paintings say as much about me as they do the sitter/images I use as subject matter. I feel I capture an anxiety in the image that portrays the person as well as myself. Therefore it’s a mixture of emotions created through the medium of paint. Along with this comes the power of colour and how that interprets a certain emotion, but it’s something I don’t think about as I’m usually on auto pilot when I work.’
These comments were helpful in that they reaffirmed my belief that portraiture acts as a collaboration between artist and sitter. It is a unique an art form in this sense and is a very subjective discipline to critique.
Description of final painting
The three figures in the final image show the different layers and aspects of Kayleigh, similarly to Hambling’s 1998 painting of George. Deciding upon which elements of Kayleigh to depict was a challenging process, one which Hambling herself confronted, ‘It was difficult to choose just three of George’s personae.’
On the left, the standing figure symbolises the model’s vulnerability and dark thoughts. Her hair covers her face and part of her body, acting as a shield against the onlookers gaze. She appears more isolated than the other states of Kayleigh which face one other. In creating this state of vulnerability and isolation, I looked to one of my greatest influences, Edvard Munch. His weeping nudes are visually beautiful and sensitive yet simultaneously give a sense of devastation and despair. I wanted this to come through in depicting my model, but at the same time felt this imagery was something I could relate to on a personal level.
The central figure, similar to the standing model, symbolises vulnerability without the same negative connotations. Her female sexuality and beauty is portrayed through the eyes of another female who understands how it feels physically and emotionally to be a woman. The figure also relates to more traditional depictions of the female nude, a tradition that has repeated throughout art history. The figure on the right echoes this central figure through the position of the arms. The difference is that this figure is clothed, and shows more of an exterior representation of the model. Both models show her femininity, but the central figure seems to be a more open depiction in that she is stripped bare. In the image the figures begin to become more incorporated with the mood emitting background.
While I am happy with the overall paintings, the styles aren’t resolved. Throughout the project, my painting style has changed. In working on the same portraits for so long, something began to transform in my painting. I began using larger brushes and gestural brush-marks. Soon the figures were disappearing and becoming less important. The abstract elements of my paintings at first seemed too far away from my initial project brief. I remembered, however, that these paintings had never been portraits in the most conventional sense. I asked myself, ‘Why can’t a portrait be an abstract representation of a person, that suggests them through creation of essence or mood?’ This was, in effect, what Maggi Hambling’s portraits of George Melly were; the only difference being the vague presence of a figure in her paintings. It became clear that abstract portraiture was another form of metaphorical portraiture, using colours and gestural marks instead of familiar image association to suggest aspects of a character. ‘All Portraits show a distorted, ideal or partial view of the sitter’, and all portraits exist in their own right as a separate entity from whom they depict.
My work had evolved from a response to words, to a painterly response to another person.
Furthermore, by exploring the concept of abstract portraiture I found a literal example in the work of Patrick Heron. Abtract painter Heron was commissioned by Dame A S Byatt to create a portrait. Stating that she was disinterested in a life-like representation, she claimed ‘what I wanted was the presence of the idea of me, not a record of the whole of my face…’ Byatt later claimed that the first sitting resulted in a drawing, while the painting was ‘completed quite suddenly and decisively’ two years later.