Herein Lies Madness

I am at a stage in the ‘process’ where words are somewhat lumpy when trying to describe what is happening, so I am going to ‘feel’ my way through the experience over some time, as I try to shape the words to fit the practice.

Pat Paxson in Art & Intuition 1 uses her own practice to evaluate Lacan’s theory of the Gaze.  The theory is still out of reach, but by working and recording the feelings and emotions I am feeling, I hope to illuminate my practice.

For this purpose in addition to working with a specifically mixed grey 2, I am also working with a single blurred family photo (9 x 11 cms) of my grandmother and myself in 1953 in Chatsworth Road market in the East End of London.


I was the first grandchild to a matriarch, a survivor, who had no time for telephones and  the modern world.  For me this image summarises that period of life sandwiched between post war austerity, with its ration books and make do, and the swinging sixties.

By focusing on one image in monochrome, I am attempting to strip away all external influences of colour association, of working with the unknown, to access what I am experiencing when I look at and work with this image.

I am looking to reveal Bomberg’s ‘spirit in the mass’3, Lacan’s gaze 4, Giacometti’s ‘pure presence’5, something that ‘precedes perception’6, the stripping back and familiarity of Celia Paul’s portraits.  As I have said before, herein lies madness, but if not now, when?  James Lord revealed 7 that this task did not come easy for Giacometti.  This revealation has allowed me to be kind to myself.

Working intuitively, and having made a number of watercolour and charcoal small works of the subject, I decided to produce a large charcoal drawing (112 x 112 cms) as my starting point


Charcoal on Somerset Velvet Enhanced 330gsm white paper

Working with charcoal, or chalk, allows me to work virtically and to be able to step back continually, something that just cannot happen with a watercolour.

With this work I am aiming for a likeness with traditional drawing before tackling the subject again with looser indicative marks that I have been working on at life drawing.  I want to experience the little girl, me, looking back at me while I am absorbed in the process, a process that actually represents the whole of my life.

The action of applying charcoal, smudging, removing, is mediatative, almost like working with clay to mould the figures, so deep is the desire to capture the very being and never let it go.


The little girl’s gaze is intense, it follows me round the room, as if reassuring herself that I am there.  She is not yet finished, but I can feel her presence, I can sense what she is thinking, her ease with her grandmother is evident.

There is much to do, and it is a slow process, working in bursts of no more than 30 minutes, it is almost like holding my breath for each session.


Still not there, problems with my grandmother’s face, but I need to move on and discover what other problems await.  I will keep the work pinned on the wall to work on as I become aware of the adjustments necessary.


Torn photocopied mark making collaged with charcoal on paper 61 x 43 cms

Here I am trying to use my life drawing process applied to my family photo.  The next stage is to replicate in grey watercolour.  My aim at this stage is to combine the accidental mark making with the accidental watercolour marks to create an image that is driven by intuition and not logic.

Now I will return to painting alongside the charcoal.

I have experimented with painting over charcoal, but that isn’t going to work, even if I stabalise the charcoal, because the charcoal seems to lose it’s sensitivity.  I have also experimented with a pin hole drawing bottle, which requires a certain skill to avoid the paint blobbing.  Could be useful for the detail.


Watercolour on paper 43 x 61 cms

The grey I have mixed isn’t stable enough, separating as soon as it touches the paper.  This may prove to be ok, but I will mix the grey again to see if I can produce a stable grey.  Painting from the collaged work I am removing the detail and leaving only mark making.  Not easy.  I have looked into creating a projector to project the collaged work onto the wall.  Not sure if that will just recreate the detail issue of working from the original photo.  I feel a bit of a blockage with regard to the speed with which I need to work for this type of painting and the meditative process that feels essential to get to the spirit of the subject.  Hum.

1  Paxson, P  2011, Art and Intuition, Xlibris Corporation

2  Grey, based on alizarin crimson and cerulean.

3  Oxlade, R 2010, Art & Instinct, Ziggurat Books p118

4  Paxson, P 2011, Art and Intuition, Xlibris Corporation p17

5  Moorhouse, P 2015 Pure Presence, National Portrait Gallery

6  Waters, F 2015, Christies Catalogue


Author: susanmilleruk

Watercolour painter living, working and loving Hastings and St Leonards on Sea. MA in Fine Art.

2 thoughts on “Herein Lies Madness”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: