Dialogic Portraits is a form that evolves in series. It generates a portraiture which recognises the labour and experience of the sitter as well as that of the artist, thinking together in the context of the painting that emerges from the sitting. Watercolour portraits undermine romantic conventions of unique (and gendered) artistic authority. If a ‘real’ artist is identified through mastery, the medium of watercolour makes such mastery uncertain, reinforced by its associations with amateurism. Each portrait is a document of time spent together and each sitting involves talking and silences. Audio, written and video recordings are made, and each series results in different types of production in addition to the performative experience of witness/sitter and witness/painter working together.
People Like You: Contemporary Figures of Personalisation is an inter-disciplinary research project led by principal investigators from Warwick University, Imperial and Goldsmiths University of London. I am collaborating to make a Dialogic Portraits project to produce a series of paintings and a film through 2019 and 2020.
Begin Again (2009-2014) developed out of a decade of not-painting, inviting people I had worked with in that decade to sit for me. Work’s limits were explored: intellectual, administrative, affective labour or network. Discursive themes included questions of portraiture, the subject, and the concurrent dismantling of the welfare state.
Following each sitting with 76 people (typically a day’s work producing two portraits), I wrote a diaristic note and audio-recorded an interview with the sitter. All voices were anonymised in subsequent publications.
A series of 12 Dialogic Portraits made as image-text journal entries, with poet Simon Smith writing poems from each of the sittings, subsequently handwritten below the portraits by the artist; pictures and poems recalling a particular time spent together.
The first six were published in Junction Box Issue 7, May 2015 as Six Encounters: London & Ramsgate, October & November 2015 by Felicity Allen & Simon Smith.
Commissioned by Turner Contemporary as their first artist’s residency, a series of Dialogic Portraits and the film As If They Existed made from a series of two-day encounters in Turner Contemporary’s studio, with women who had been adult during the 1970s Women’s Movement. Each had had an impact on possibilities for women artists, and had received varying degrees of recognition. Included in the film are curators Sandra Drew, Jenni Lomax, Lynda Morris, art historians Gill Perry, Griselda Pollock, Anne Wagner, poet and philosopher Denise Riley (audio only), and artist Rose Wylie.
As a process Dialogic Portraits is complex: involving considerable administration, project management and care. Interpreting Exchange was an experiment in which I invited sitters to exchange but decided not to direct. It is incomplete.
Refugee Tales is an outreach project of Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group. It supports people – asylum seekers and UK residents – targetted by the government’s ‘hostile environment’. It is a walking and literature project, publishing a series of anthologies of Refugee Tales. My work with Refugee Tales is incomplete and involves refugees and their advocates. These images include two postcards made with poet David Herd and designer Emily Benton.