I’m at Heathrow, walking down a long conveyor to the departure gate. To my left, we glide past a dark mirrored wall, in which I can see my own reflection, travelling along with me for the ride; while to my right, arriving passengers carried the other way towards the immigration hall half dissolve in white neon. Suddenly I become aware that this scene is split in two, dark versus light, space moving simultaneously forwards and backwards. On my left my dark, anxious-anticipatory self is walking along the beltway towards the East, to the ‘plane on the tarmac and to my husband, who will be there at the other side to greet me. In the harsh white light on my right I can see like a phantom in the light bouncing off the tiled walls my future self, walking down this same corridor at the end of this trip, returning back home to solitude. I meet myself coming the other way.
So there in this moment in a humdrum, windowless and un-mapped airport tunnel, in a sharp perception as fleeting as the photograph that I, knowing in that split second that I will make a painting of this scene, had fumbled for on my ‘phone and caught on the wing, I found myself moving through the landscape of my own mind and through both our complex biographies (because I see in my mind always his reverse East-West comings and goings), and all the struggle of constructing a life across two worlds, between intense togetherness and its twin of dumbly flailing loneliness, our worlds turning relentlessly from light to dark , each of our arrivals containing its own departure, each beginning its end. The realization was as sudden as a religious revelation and yet at the same time utterly solid and tangible, the most physical manifestation imaginable of autobiographical space and of the body’s relation to it, more real than real. Such perfection of imagery, such closeness of physical space and arrangement of forms to emotional and autobiographical truth – this is rare. Experiencing it, I suddenly fell on the perfect image. I can seek conjunctions similar to this one, take photographs, search page after page on Google Image, make drawings and re-order reality, and for most of the time this is what I have to do, treading water and waiting, but these moments, only a handful in a lifetime, are beyond price. I have been gifted the image.
At other times, I skate across the surface, making images from images, enjoying the panache of the painted response to external reality – bodies in a wood, trees, foliage – the interface between paint and photograph its own stimulus, the experience of painting its own pleasure, and I, adding another one to the score, lift up each new addition into the racks. Then from time to time, although I know in my heart of hearts that it will end in tears, I become compelled to work another way entirely, digging deeper, beneath the pictorial image and through a doorway into to the more hidden, complex spaces of the mind, attempting to dredge up through oil paint’s malleability and my own sheer will-power my inner self, my memories, fears and deepest fantasies, the wilder shores of the psyche. Here, on the interface between image and abstraction, memory and photographic prop, I struggle and flail, and when each new and increasingly frenzied address to the canvas surface feels like it might just succeed this time, I turn my back and shut the studio door only for the painting to treacherously evaporate into smears without structure or reality or seeming intent, formally unstructured, emotionally homeless.