I painted this for an exhibition in my first year at uni – ‘Introspect’ – which focuses on mental health. It was only the beginning of my second semester and I was trying to navigate the overwhelming list of societies, activities, internships, and events St Andrews ceaselessly has on offer. Even though I’d been confident in the category ‘art’ as my way to get involved, this didn’t narrow it down; Art Society, Art History Society, St.Art Magazine and more have a non-stop rota of calls for volunteers, co-ordinators, and submissions for exhibitions and events. I defaulted to my typical ‘confused’ response and committed to nothing by trying everything – hence, this self-portrait was born.
This was the first time I’d shown anything to a single soul at St Andrews. It had been about a year since I’d dropped out of art school and I’d felt a bit uneasy returning to the easel, since.
Now that I’ve studied much more Art History I find this piece a bit basic – I’ve never developed much of a style beyond cautious attempted realism and even that’s a bit amiss (the hair really needs ‘brushing up’) – but I suppose it’s of its time and expresses that state of mind. I’d been struggling with the worst bout of insomnia I think I’ve ever had where I’d stay up all night reading, writing, and eventually painting (so at least it was productive!), before falling asleep on-the-dot for 8am. I was unsuccessfully trying to cope with a combo of factors I’d seen, back then, as dramatic: moving to Scotland coincided with my first big breakup whilst I was trying to figure out a degree route and make friends.
The thick application and textured strokes were a deliberate, expressive, experiment; I was trying to work in a rough sensation of the nightly mania I felt before ultimately submitting to staying up. I also wanted the top layer unfinished – fading in-and-out of various stages of falling asleep, with the closest depiction to unconsciousness being the most opaque, whilst laying next to the least-stressful images. Through my central, wakeful, self the calculations and diagrams are starkly visible, as is the lunar illustration I sifted from a book in one of my favourite modules: ‘Images and Knowledge’ (A third-year class I’d snooped the reading list for extra-early and ended up taking two years on). Though most of the montage is my happy curation of an aesthetic style I just love (art of the Early-Modern sciences), I tried to slip in a lil self-important symbolism; ‘counting sheep’, and hypodontia – a condition to which I’ve lost many a night with obsession.