Category Archives: Feb ’16

More me than me.

Last year I was inspired by the artist André Kertész whilst I was thinking about distorting the contemporary portrait image. His work seemed so dynamic and thought provoking. The distortion mesmerising; human and inhuman in the same image.

I bought some mirror-on-a-roll and then found myself going in entirely different directions. But today I took the mirror roll out to experiment with. It has SO much potential and I am excited about the possibilities. Absolutely hilarious seeing yourself with a foot long chin or two heads. No wonder this type of distortion used to make it into the funfair. I will be asking a wonderful life model if she will pose for me soon as I can imagine working on this either as a photographic series or developing the images into large paintings.

Distortion no 82 – André Kertész

To Be Held

It is compassion. It is embracing people. It is love.

A colleague just walked past me and read ‘To Be Held’ on my computer screen and said the exact words above before leaving the room. It feels almost as if there is nothing else left to say, but I will continue to write what I had intended.

I have been thinking a lot recently about how best to give work away to people who may not be able to take much. For homeless men and women it may be fairly unhelpful to hand them work which is delicate. I remembered making this collection of faces on the edges of small pieces of clay, referring to them as ‘whispers’. This made me think; once fired the clay is fairly solid and can withstand being bumped around in a pocket. It reminded me of when my mother gave me an extra strong mint when I was stressed before school one day. She intended it to be eaten immediately and I suspect she was a little surprised that I held onto it, loose in my blazer pocket, for the whole year. Touching it reminded me that she had given it to me to make me feel better so there was a definite placebo effect, despite the fact it was just a mint.

I made this piece called ‘To Be Held’. Similar to the other works, yet the expression is subdued: perhaps sleeping, almost certainly sensing pressure. It rested in a pleasing way against my palm, and I felt that I was ‘comforting’, and as the owner of this tiny piece I was also the carer, supporter and mother figure. Returning to what my colleague said, it puts the person holding the work into that ‘giver’. The giving is simultaneous.


It pleases me to make these and I feel that I could make a fair number and give them away. They make me think of literally holding onto – and equally letting go of – people. The fact that you need to clench your fist quite hard to hold onto this work makes me think of the effort in terms of holding onto anything: whether it is good for us or not. But the effort is also cathartic: it is pleasing to do things for others. The face is symbolic of whatever it needs to be for the person who receives it.

I Choose You

This morning I gave away 13 pieces of work on paper.

Eleven of these were chosen by my students and will be sent to them in the post. Two were chosen by colleagues. I am delighted. Everyone is a winner. The act of giving work away is very humbling and powerful. It is, in essence, giving a little piece of me to each of the recipients. Yesterday I also posted two works on paper to a friend who wanted to put them into a raffle to raise money for sufferers of Asthma. That makes it 15 works given away in 24 hours. I feel that the next collection of work should be given away to strangers. I’m enjoying recording the work in the recipients’ hands. This feels a simple way of expressing the nature of it being a gift.

Levi van Veluw

Sometimes it is possible to omit an artist from research purely because they are someone so obvious you forget them entirely. As Levi van Veluw is a photographer I commonly refer to, I wonder why it has taken me so long to make the connection between his work and my own.

Levi van Veluw was born in the Dutch town of Hoevelaken in 1985 and studied at the ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in Arnhem.

Since graduating in 2007, Levi van Veluw has produced multi-disciplinary works that includes photographs, videos, sculptures, installations and drawings. This varied body of work has been showcased in many different locations across Europe and the United States, earning him a number of nominations and awards.

I went out two days ago to buy some makeup pencils as I wanted to draw, rather than paint on a model (perhaps myself). This linked so closely to van Veluw’s work although I am not sure how I feel about the idea of the marks being a little more permanent. This makes me feel uncomfortable because, in my years of experience trying to wash the notes off the back of my hand, there is a fairly consistent ‘staining’ which is inevitable. This would be really interesting to explore over a few days when I know that I don’t have to be too ‘public’. The idea of using materials that stain and fade emerged when I bought a ‘tattoo pen’ which I thought was essentially for children to use to decorate their skin or use at parties etc for more delicate face painting. It stained quite badly though and I was surprised at this. I will reinvestigate the world of tattoo pens and consider more lengthy staining/design work. I am already the owner of a couple of tattoos and will definitely consider designing a new work directly onto my body. This has nothing of the ‘rebellious strength’ of the original works, created in another era. But it is the obvious final destination of a project about decorating the skin. Permanence is not important in my current works. Transience and variety is: but ultimately marking periods of time is also an interesting use of the contemporary tattoo, which fascinates me. I quite like the idea of doing the drawing in public. For example, taking a train ride or drinking tea in a café whilst drawing onto my own skin could be really interesting! I wonder how people would react if I was drawing on my son, who is always a willing model. This might appear more ‘shocking’ and controversial. Perhaps, as we did when he was about 4 years old with face paints, we draw on each other. That would be fun! Something makes me think we might be accused of setting a bad example.


This is Where It Hurts

how i feel

Last night we had a gathering of my Testing Boundaries group online. It followed a long day at work and I was already feeling rough when we met. I don’t think I contributed much, and did much temple rubbing and nodding. It was useful to have the group commenting on my plans and their advice and thoughtful suggestions have been duly noted. I was surprised that we were all constructing some street-related project which involved getting outside and brandishing our work with some kind of emotional abandon (except for the-group-member-who-shall-remain-anonymous who is having to do slightly more delicate placement of work, avoiding security cameras etc). We’re all rushing to experience some sense of public display, opening up the door to, well, who knows what?! That is the test, I’m sure. That none of us know what the reception will be like – will people think we are just mad exhibitionists, or will the release of creativity into environments which perhaps seldom see it, prove dynamic and thought provoking. By the end of the meeting I felt awful. Apologising to the group I had to leave and hold my head in my hands for some time. Parental responsibility out the window, cereal for supper for my son whilst I retreated to make small animal noises beside my bed – yes, not even well enough to get INTO bed. Still, the recent meeting and the pain behind my eyes seemed to blend together in a toxic mix of emotions: all is bad, pain is bad, writing is bad, energy is gone, representing oneself is ridiculous. I visualised a few pieces which needed to be made, including the image above, layering some art from previous months and thinking specifically about personal distress. It was all part of the journey; of feeling physically unwell. I am aware that the image above is open to a broad range of interpretation, and the image below is rather more confusing:

how i feel 5

But this piece inspired me to draw. I liked the lines and the marks in the piece above and felt it necessary to put ink and dip pen to paper, using some of the up-cycled postcards I had put oil paint bases onto for drawing on in public. (see below). During my sleepless, twisting, distorted night of planning my own funeral and wondering what will happen to my son when I die (melodramatic?) I also envisaged myself alongside the underground window on which I had blu-tacked some art. One end of the District Line to the other. My ‘home turf’ and straight through central London. Me, a stack of work, a small exhibition; offering people any work they like. Then I was sitting under a bridge, opposite a homeless man, a selection of works tacked to the bridge alongside me, discussing these and connecting. These offerings from my ‘twilight breakdown’ may or may not evolve into actual reality, but I liked them. And they seemed logical, and to fit with the nature of my project: taking work to the people, infiltrating environments, engaging with others, making connections. How bizarre that even when I am struggling to regain normal brain function I am STILL planning strategic development of Testing the Boundaries. It is an obsession, a medication and a survival strategy, surely?  Did it keep me from the light? I’m not so sure, but …these pains are lessened and I am relatively normal again – whatever that means.


Those Dreams, Those Dreams.

Ink & oil paint on card.



River of

Ink & oil paint on card.


Flow. Flow. Flow

Ink & oil paint on card.


Self + 10 years

This self portrait has been living with me for a decade. However, too large to work on easily or to exhibit, I have been frustrated by the fact that I did not feel it accurately did anything: it didn’t feel like it represented me, at least not me in any current way. At the time of painting it I had moved into a house which worried me and I felt ‘watched’. The painting certainly gives some sense of this although the left hand side of the painting featured works remembered from drawing life models, during which I was watching them. Questions of ownership, voyeurism and perception of nudity were on my mind. The fact that my eye does not meet the viewer accentuated this. But the work is a large piece at 170 x 240cm and I felt that it had been something which I had moved beyond. Not wanting to exhibit works as old as this one (despite it having been out of the public eye) I decided to rework it, absorbing and being directed by some of the lines within the images, but essentially transforming it.



This work in progress is pleasing me greatly. I felt that I connected more with this image than with the portrait it had been. This felt it was resonating more with where I am now, which is interesting because I had to ‘lose myself’ in the process. I had to abandon the sense of wanting to remain and wanting to preserve myself. This is echoed by what appears to be waters rushing  into the image with the bodies being steadily submerged within this rushing tide. Where the face used to be, there is open sky. In the same approach as ‘I am the Mountain’ sculpture, this opening of the image was a negotiation between gaining space and losing content. But who needs to see my face anyway? I am certainly not necessary as part of the ‘art’. I am the art. It is me. This is more a self-portrait than what existed before, because it is a window into my mind, into my imagination, feelings and neurosis. This work has a long way to go and is only at a very early stage of being a work in progress. But I thought it would be interesting to show how it has already evolved. In documenting this I am writing a diary in paint.


The ‘diary’ continues in more body painting. I wanted to get back into this so that I am comfortable painting models and recording them in the near future. When isolated, the area between my eye, nose and mouth, has become it’s own flesh painting. Identifying this area without my features is much more pleasing as an image and is one I will be working with over the next few weeks.


The paint is on me and I am Art.

Making Sense of it


(Details from) Acknowledge the Fear. E Delpech

Recently it has been pretty intense. Let me fill you in. I have done an 8-week Mindfulness course which has required me to think about my thoughts. To think about HOW I think. To think about the things I try not to think about. To think about what I suppress, or what makes me sad. To think about negative thoughts and to learn to let go of them. It is all embodied in my last post in the sculpture ‘I Am The Mountain’. I am indeed the mountain. Only, this process has opened me up to something I had not accepted prior to this. It has made me question all sorts of assertions I made about myself. It has made me challenge my perceptions of what ‘rational’ thoughts actually are, how one decides what is clinically on some kind of spectrum in the range which might require intervention. I am, let’s be clear, not worried about my own mental health. However, I am interested in how revealing the process has been and how this has impacted on my work. It seems that the recent work is much more about a suggestion, an impression, a thought or as I have described a few times, a whisper. There are scars and bleeding and bruising and fear all mixed in with longing and hopefulness and calm. My typically colourful palette will not yield to any dark, it refuses. And I consciously approve. Because it is the palette which draws me in. It is the blend of red and oranges and the struggle and play between them which tells a story and allows me to fall into the ‘patchwork quilt’ of hues. My eyes are in the middle of it. I know it from one edge to the other, every daub of paint, every brush stroke. Every sore, or scratch, each shadow and highlight. It is all felt in that moment as it is created.


Les Bicknell 1

And then I have this amazing tutorial with Les Bicknell who’s art work (above) appears almost the antithesis of what I have been doing. The structure, rigidity, perfection, balance, measured and precise approach so in contrast to my mindful abstraction. Yet he understands the processes I am exploring, and my desire to connect. In discussion we dissect some of the issues: why am I doing this and what do I want to achieve? Yes indeed. Why am I planning to give vast amounts of painting away? Why am I planning to paint models and parade them around to be photographed in a range of different places?


Why am I even interested in painting on flesh and what has this got to do with anything? Where do I sit as an artist: what is my point? These conversations are the injection of adrenalin which fuels an artist. It forces me to take a stance and say THIS is what I believe in, THIS is what I am thinking and feeling. So, my paint is my mask: it is the outer – the bit you are allowed to see and question. It is exactly the same as my makeup: it is a shroud, a division. I let you in but only so far, only this close.


Les’s question about why I am not stitching with my own hair made me feel he really understood what I was thinking. YES! Stitch with my own hair: as Mona Hatoum did, and my friend and MA colleague Monika Breuckner did last year. The hair brings it together. It remains a self-portrait, even more embedded with my own DNA, with strands of me, with parts of my actuality, whilst also being entirely separate: used, disposable, dirty and arguably beautiful in equal measure. I am excited to start stitching these together and feel that it will connect me even more intensely with the work.

We discussed my interest in working with patients, in looking into the Prinzhorn Collection and the notion of Art and Psychosis. It is 18 years since I created a work for the electroconvulsive therapy waiting room at St Clement’s Psychiatric Hospital and I have grown up in a house where mental health was often discussed and was a relevant topic of interest. (My mother founded the Association for Post-Natal Illness, gaining an MBE for 30 years of service to mental health). My recent work with Crisis and my upcoming voluntary work at a local hospice are both opportunities to think even further about ‘the point’. That connection. That connectivity. It is not about making sure everyone knows the name Emma Delpech and that I have millions of followers and am paid in hundreds of thousands. It is about what is real to me in Art, what is tangible and what gives it value to me. The reality is that I am connected. I am involved. I am helping. I am sharing. I am part of. I am, as Les describes ‘the subversive maverick who controls the world‘, busy questioning the value of art and the relevance of how my experience of making the work is shared.

Les’ advice:

Stitch with hair. Give work away. Ask those it has been given to to photograph it in situ and describe how they feel about it, or when they notice it. Offer work to homeless people (remain inclusive): Art can change lives! Build networks and make sense of the connectivity of the world – make it work for me. Visit the Wellcome Collection for further ideas on Meditation and Consciousness.