PAPERS IN PROGRESS
The expression of emotions in pictures (draft)
Pictorial Narrators (presentation and draft)
Seeing emotions in the face (draft)
Pictures in Time (draft)
PAINTINGS OF PHILOSOPHERS.
I literally fell into philosophy. In search of a script idea for a corporate project, I bumbled into a basement room in Senate House, where a research student was presenting a paper on the links between language and vision. Two hours later I emerged, blinking, from the cave.
I didn’t know at that point that I had been listening to philosophy. I certainly had never studied it. I mean, I’d read Nausea when I was an undergrad but at that point Donna Tartt’s Secret History was more up my street. Bamboozled by the basement room I signed up for a part-time Masters in Philosophy at King’s.
And I was utterly, wonderfully rubbish at it. So much so in fact I rebaptised myself the Bad Philosophy Writer. I’ll admit that I found my incompetency embarrassing rather than funny. I’m certain others found it tedious. But the actual material was too compelling just to give up and overall I’m pleased I stuck with it. I finished my writing my PhD in Spring 2020, had my viva in the Summer and joined the Faculty in last September as a Lecturer. Owing to forces beyond my control, most of that was accomplished without leaving the chair I’m sitting in right now. Excitement is not what is used to be.
Writing a PhD is a discombobulating experience. At least it is in philosophy. You think you’ll spend hours poring over texts thinking wise thoughts. But mostly you spend time looking in the fridge or urgently seeking coffee. Or being pathologically positive. The umpteenth rewrite? Fab. What about restructuring this whole section? Marvellous. You have to pace yourself. Aren’t mid-morning maps a thing? (asking for a friend).
So why do it? Apart from the thrill of actually discovering the answer to a question, I’d say the main reason is that you get to talk with some incredible humans. Humans that are generous enough to help you find the answer to your question. Or help you refine the question. Or explain how you ask a good one. Or just tell you what someone else wrote when you can’t figure it out. Or show genuine interest in your research. Or spark new interests. Or help you locate your tiny contribution in the apparently infinite morass of ongoing investigations. These conversations clarify and console you. You are not the only nutter after all. Other people like this stuff too! You’ll have conversations that are so much fun you can’t quite believe you are having them.
And that’s how I ended up painting the portraits. I noticed that each of these humans I enjoyed speaking with had a face. It’s fairly common I guess. Their faces would change when they were talking about something they were really, really interested in. When you are learning you need to listen and watch carefully. I wanted to see if I could encapsulate something of those important conversations as a record of my PhD adventure. At first, I was lucky enough to draw my sitters while we chatted. Eventually, I would be limited to zoom or teams or someother virtual interface. I’ve tried to keep the paintings unified though – at least in terms of style. I’ve kept a visual travel journal for years, so this felt like a natural extension of that private hobby. It has been a way of slowing down. Slow processing. Quiet thinking. Patient painting.
PHILOSOPHY OF PORTRAITS
[Extract] Interview with Lucy Dahlsen
This morning, before settling in to write this nutshell, I visited a portrait. It is tucked down a quiet hallway of the National Portrait Gallery in London. And when I say I visited it, of course I mean I clicked on it, which is the only way one can visit these paintings in a pandemic lockdown. I have met with this portrait before. The face is intelligent yet surprisingly benign, not in the least smug and even somewhat self-effacing. Each time I visit it I am struck by the contrast between the Thomas Hobbes I have read and the man who is looking at me. He of the infamous anti-utopian dictum that life without law is ‘nasty brutish and short’. Yet, the person I see seems so utterly at odds with the thinker I have studied. I am drawn to return to him in his painting even though I am not drawn to return to his writing. What compels me to look and look again, is that the artist seems to have distilled some ‘essence of Hobbes’. Each time I see Hobbes the portrayed, I experience a tiny shock of recognition – of Hobbes the man. Continue Reading