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Last time, I mentioned the importance of having the blog to share ideas and to strike up dialogues with other artists about things I’m working on. However, I must also highlight how helpful it has been to receive peer mentorship through regular meetings with other like-minded artists/ Art Therapists.

The artist peer mentoring group that I set up two years ago (loosely named Art + Me) was devised as a means of primarily identifying other Art Therapists, both trainees and fully-qualified professionals who would also call themselves active artists. The initial callout drew artists of various disciplines who share this dual role, although over the years we have relaxed our criteria to also artists who have an interest in Art Therapy or are training in other therapeutic disciplines.

Last month we had our 11th meeting together and the growing number of members means that we’re now looking to meet once a month. We’re also discussing options for a group exhibition together this year. The meeting was also an opportunity to give selected artists a space to talk about their work and to receive feedback from the rest of the group. On this occasion, I had an opportunity to share my work, a prospect that filled me with a certain degree of panic.

As mentioned previously within my blog, I have really struggled to stay motivated as an artist. Prior to the peer group meeting, I felt as though I had lots of ideas or things that I had started on, but very little to show since our last meeting together. As a result, I decided to present the group with an appraisal of my artworks-in-progress to date so that I could disseminate my energies in the upcoming months. As an artist, it can often be difficult to give a concise summary of what it is you do, or your overriding themes, but talking about my practice within the group always feels safe and encouraging. I enjoy the discipline of retelling people what my work is about.

Since 2015, my practice has been split between multiple works that explore my own identity, primarily through self-portraiture. These works encompass a range of media including video, drawing and assemblage. Although, they are all derived from the same source material – a vast compendium of photographs I’ve been taking of myself over the past two years. I now have an archive of nearly 900 images and I’m still going!

One work that I decide to show was my ‘post-it portrait’ – a large scale wall drawing of myself in pencil, made up of hundreds of post-it notes. However, the enormity of the task has left me feeling demotivated. I recently calculated that the final image will be made up of 609 post-its. Thus far, I have only completed about 180, less than a third. One suggestion from the group was whether the artwork could be developed as a collaborative exercise undertaken by close friends and family in which each person is sent a square to complete independently and sent back. I really liked the idea that the artwork’s construction might become some sort of participatory event. Making an artwork in this way would mean that I would have even less autonomy over what the final image might look like.

I also showed another artwork I’d been working on, a composite image which alludes to the constraints of traditional self-portraiture to capture one’s identity, in any kind of fixed way, due to the way our appearances change with time.

The work started out as an experiment, overlaying multiple self-images which were blown up to A3-size photocopies. Each of the images were then cut into thin strips (3mm wide) using a metal ruler and scalpel and then layered on top of one another. The resulting artwork initially looks like streamers, or a beaded curtain, as one group member described it. However, on closer inspection you start to discern the basic outline of face. I also discovered that when I held the artwork in front of a mirror, and shook it gently, the image would shimmer slightly. It was as if I’d seen my reflection in a pool of water, an allusion to the myth of Narcissus.

I quite liked that the image moved or could be animated in some way, and presenting this work to the group was useful in terms of thinking about how it could be developed and exhibited.

As it was, feedback from group members was mixed. For instance, some identified that they liked the size of the work whereas others felt it should be much bigger. One suggestion was to recreate the image on a much larger scale whereby viewers could pass through the artwork. This idea really captured my imagination and shares similarities with another artwork – Threshold, that I made 9 years ago whilst at Wimbledon College of Art. That artwork was inspired by themes of ritualism and the connections held between physical action and transcendence. It took the form a large curtain, hung from the ceiling, that individuals were invited to pass through. The idea was based on Biblical descriptions of the Holy of Holies – the inner sanctuary within the Tabernacle where God is said to have dwelt. The Holy of Holies was set apart by a veil, and no one could enter except the High Priest, and even he could only enter once a year. These descriptions also provoke comparisons with the Black Lodge – the extradimensional space featured in the television series Twin Peaks, perhaps another unconscious influence at the time.

It is interesting that this veil/curtain motif has arisen within my practice again, although this time in relation to themes of identity. Drawing on the feedback of the group, I liked the idea that the work could be interactive and people could pass through or ‘go behind the veil’ to discover something else about me that might otherwise be hidden. What this might be, I’m still unsure. I feel that the next stage will be to think about how the art work might be developed as some type of installation or environment that others can interact with. Within the peer mentoring group, there was a discussion about whether my self-image needs to be an integral part of the curtain or veil or, alternatively, could it be a projected image. In terms of next steps, it might be worth making some form of small model or prototype to help me make sense of what this might look like.


Thought I’d borrow a line from Kate Murdoch’s blog, Keeping it Going. It pretty much sums up my creative output since the beginning of the year which has has almost come to a grinding halt. In an effort to gain some much needed momentum I thought I’d recommit myself to the blog as it’s always been a useful means to gather my thoughts and ideas and engage with other A-N users/ artists who are a continual source of encouragement.

This week I forced myself to write a blog post, if only to say that I had! It just so happened that Candid Arts Trust are currently hosting a Portrait Exhibition from now until this weekend so I hiked it up to Angel to go see it. I thought this would be a good opportunity to reignite my interest in the theme of self/ selfhood and identity, even if my own focus was on self-portraiture as opposed to portraits of other people. The exhibition was nonetheless useful in thinking about the sheer number of artists who engage with portraiture in one way or another. Most artworks on show were 2D and a mixture of figurative and abstract responses to the theme. I was especially interested in a work by Adam Hogarth, called The Great Wave of Kanagawa because it had a particular aesthetic sensibility – a cropped black-and-white image of a face that had been distorted in some way, which I felt loosely resembled my own work (see Wringer). The work was a photo etching, a process I was unfamiliar with, but involves the act or process of making designs or pictures on a metal plate, glass, etc., by the corrosive action of an acid instead of by a burin.


Something else that has caught my attention was video that I discovered via Facebook of a series of robots that are programmed to draw human portraits in different ways. Well worth a watch if you haven’t already seen it.

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As a continuation of some of the ideas posted in my last blog post, I started to develop and work with the video footage I’d generated of me touching my own face and head in an investigative fashion. The original video was completely improvised and inspired by Gustave Courbet’s The Desperate Man, a self-portrait of the artist manically holding his own head. I wanted the video to convey this same sense of emotional turmoil; of Courbet’s own existential wonderings. I’m not sure if my own video does this; it feels a little muddled. I wonder whether it would be good to have some distance from the video, for now, and to be able to return to it with fresh eyes in the future. Perhaps it needs to be shelved for the time being. On the hand, I did it feel it might be useful to share what I’d done so far with the footage through this blog even though I’m not completely happy with it. It’s great to have this forum to speak confidently about things I’m doing or things that I’m interested in, but it’s also good to be able to voice doubts and uncertainties too. This particular work doesn’t fully resolved, although I’m glad I’ve wrestled with a bit so I can move on to something else now. I’d be keen to get other people’s views on the video, especially if you’ve read my previous post.


I feel as though I have a lot of balls in the air at the moment – the first time in a long time. My interest in self-portraiture as encouraged me to develop a body of work in various different mediums. I am currently working on an ongoing video piece called Self though, as I mentioned in my last post, I have also started work on a large scale drawing of my own self-portrait in which I used a grid to intimately study the formal properties of my face.

In addition to making artwork, I have also found myself reading a lot and have been indebted to my local library for aiding in my research. One book that I’ve particularly enjoyed reading is James Hall’s The Self Portrait – A Cultural History as it gives very comprehensive overview of the genre, from the Renaissance up to the twentieth century. It also feels like a particularly poignant book to be reading when one considers our own current cultural obsession, and ambivalence, towards notions of identity in the age of the selfie. As Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, Glynn Harrison points out:

‘It has never been easy to answer the question ‘Who am I?’ but increasing social pluralism, the fast-changing world of social media, and easy access to cosmetic surgery make it more difficult than ever.’

(2016: 1)

Harrison’s descriptions maybe a cautionary warning of how present confusions related to personal identity may affect wellbeing and threaten social cohesion. Though for me, the issue of self-representation has a very tangible link to the cultural history of self-portraiture and, the growing celebrity of the artist.

Hall describes that the genre of self-portraiture did not exist in the Middle Ages or medieval period (lasting from the 5th to the 15th century) though became more prominent during the ‘Renaissance’ of the fifteenth century, an age of exploration and discovery. Prior to this,  the ‘science’ of physiognomy – the classical belief that character could be interpreted by a person’s face, had been undermined by the Neoplatonic and Christian belief that the imperishable, invisible soul rather than the corruptible visible body is the true measure of man (2014, 17). Artists of this time were also regarded as ‘anonymous dogsbodies’ whose activities were largely liturgical in subservience to the church and to the will of God.

However, with the artistic renaissance of Europe in the fifteenth century there was a renewed interest in classical learning and values, and the Roman cult of individual fame. At the same time, the middle classes sought to imitate the aristocracy and elevate their own status by purchasing art for their homes. In addition to sacred images, many of these works portrayed domestic themes such as marriage, birth and the everyday life of the family. Artists began to occupy a heightened status in society and with that came a need to endorse one’s unique artistic credentials, or brand identity, amongst potential commissioners. A means by which many artists achieved this was to covertly supplant subjects within their paintings that looked like them or bore their likeness. In the fifteenth century this was particularly true of artists lending their likenesses to characters within iconic biblical scenes or depicting themselves strategically placed amongst the upper social strata (see Little Art Talks).

One particular painting that I feel is deserving of a special mention is Michelangelo’s Last Judgement, a fresco painted on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. The artist rejected the Vatican’s ideas regarding subject matter, replacing the existing decoration of a simple starry night with something far more dramatic (Farthing, 2010: 178). His design instead depicts the Second Coming of Christ and the final and eternal judgment by God of all humanity. Within the artwork, Michelangelo’s likeness is glimpsed at through the flayed skin held by St Bartholomew, hovering between heaven and hell.

Whilst these artworks might not have been considered self-portraits in the conventional sense, they do at least offer a prelude to how artists would break away from the established order of things – making devotional images and artefacts for the church, having started to garner the kind of autonomy that would enable them to pursue their own self-interests.

Another art work that speaks to my interest in self-portraiture is Gustave Courbet’s The Desperate Man. Like many other artists, Courbet cast himself in a number of his paintings. However, this particular artwork presents a cropped close-up of the artist with bulging eyes and hands clasping his head. It epitomised the Romantic era of the eighteenth century in which it was commonly believed that paintings could convey more than a person’s wealth and social standing. As the philosopher Hegel points out in his Lectures on Aesthetics:

‘…. the Romantic arts of painting and music could not only express ‘the particular spirit of nations, provinces, epochs and individuals’, but also the subjective life of the soul – ‘Grief, agony , both spiritual and mental…. deep feeling fear and emotion’

(1975: 788, 813 cited Hall, 2014: 201)

Inspired by Courbet’s painting, I started to meditate on my own portrait and what that might look like – head, shoulders, facial features – a cropped close-up similar to The Desperate Man. In response, I decided to film myself exploring my own face and head in an improvised fashion, using a stills camera. Initially, my improvisations were slow and tentative – feeling my nose, ears, lips – before eventually focusing on the contours of my face and the weight of my head in my hands. I found that by holding the palms of my hands against my ears (like a vice), or pressing my fingers into the hollows of my cheekbones, I could get a much more tangible sense of my head’s shape and size than by simply looking. I also found that undertaking this rather unusual exercise sparked all sorts of other thoughts about human anatomy and the importance of one’s head, not just in self-portraiture, but in relation to life generally.

From a relational standpoint, our heads and faces are a form of identification and convey to others how we’re feeling through our expressions. No other body part; when viewed in isolation, has this same unique ability. Our heads are also important because of their links to the brain and our sense of consciousness. You can lose any other part of the body (e.g. limbs, internal organs, skin) and still be alive, and inherently you, though no human being can live independently from their head. For this reason, the image of Courbet manically clasping his own head is perhaps as much an existential crisis – am I alive, am I real? – as it is about portraying the archetypal tortured artist. Perhaps I am edging towards this understanding of myself in my own way.



Farthing, S. (2010). Art: The Whole Story. London: Thames & Hudson.

Hall, J. (2016). The Self Portrait – A Cultural History. London: Thames and Hudson.

Hegel, G. (1973). Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art. Translated by T. M. Knox, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.788, 813.