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Alexithymia, Circles and Fishes

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

The painting Alexithymia began in my journals and sketchbooks. I began the process of formulating the image by reflecting on personal experiences and sifting through my eternal dialogs, thoughts and journals.

There was a desire to examine in more detail the common occurrence of the fishes and circles within my paintings, as they seem to have a symbolic nature to my work. Beginning with exploration of the circle and considering theories on what circles may represent in my paintings and drawings. I’m curious about why I am so compelled to add circles, also it’s not just the circle or the act of creating circles, I’m also concerned with the internal and the external boundaries of the shape, the receptiveness, the obsessive nature and the joining of the line that forms the circle. I have long had an interest in early child developments. Specifically, the side by side linguistic and iconic parallels of stages with a child’s consciousness process of coming to understand themselves and the world around them. How children move from the squiggle to the circle, then onto a more detailed representational drawing of a person, which can be noted in a child’s manifestation of the tadpole person. These early developmental stages of mark making then to drawing not only marry up with their linguistic advances, but also contribute to the rapid formation of their identity, how they identify with the world they are living in. Scribble to babble then all the way to representational drawing, being able to give the drawing a name, truly fascinates me.

Some examples of circles and fishes from my paintings

Then we have the mandala, the spiritual journey starting from the outside to the inner core, symbolic in many eastern religions. Depicted with various pattern formations and designs, but always a circle and usually portrays a divine sacred place, representing the entire universe, heavenly bodies and the divine spirits. In math terms, the circle is defined, simply “a circle is a closed curve that divides the plane into two regions: an interior and an exterior” explanation found on Wikipedia. I found the plane of two regions interesting, one line that connects, so a circle can both hold in and keep out, a container of sorts. I pose the question, what were my subconscious intentions with these containers? There was a major traumatic incident at the age of nearly three years old, which impacted my development and speech. It was after this event that I refused to talk and became silent for a period of my childhood. I would have been on the brink of the iconic and linguistic theory, just about to transcend into one world and enter another of discovery and self exploration, out of scribble and babble into pre representational drawing and primitive language. I figure at this age I would have tried to master the circle, having strengthened my fine motor skills to where I could control/guide a pencil in my hand a little more. Have I somehow held on to this time by representing the circle again and again in my artwork as if there is still the child in me trying to make sense of the world, am I stuck in some sort of vortex, moment or soul-searching for answers? Should these circles contain parts of my autobiographical self, the self that is missing? Looking through a book of tropical fish I had as a child is an early memory of mine. The book was something magical, as the pictures of the fish would move and looked like they were swimming on the pages. Of course, they weren’t magic. It was an early hologram picture book, but I thought that book was magic. When reminiscing, it seemed to me that I spent hours turning these pages, the colours and the idea of peeking into the undersea world of creatures I had never heard of or seen before was mesmerising. Then there were goldfishes, I had an bizarre fascination with goldfishes, I’d always arrive home from the fair with a goldfish in a bag, they always looked so pale and pasty, not at all like the goldfishes in my book. Now I think it’s a hideous way to treat a living creature and wrong on so many levels, but back then I was in love with this tiny wee odd creature that had no legs or arms and big googly eyes with no eyelids, which never closed. It was always an unhappy ending for the little fair fishes in the bag, they soon would die of ill health from living their short life as a fair amusement fish. Or they would come to an ill fate after being taken out of their fishbowl to be stroked and mused upon by me. I didn’t understand that they could not live out of water, so my mum refused to let me have any more after she caught me one day taking the latest victim out for a walk in my doll’s pram. I persuaded her a lot later, as the years passed by, that I could now care for a fish and could be fully responsible to look after it. And I did. He was a fair fish, and he lived for many years; I named him Mickey after Metal Mickey, a favourite TV show of mine at the time. When he died of old age, I gave him a respectful funeral service in my back garden and did not flush him down the toilet as my mum previously had always insisted, as with all the other ill fated fish that came before him. I put him in a match box and buried him under the soil, then said a prayer for him and all the other little fishes up in heaven. I suppose you could say it was a classic case of you live and learn!

Alexithymia Painting

When I paint fish or represent them within my art, they are always out of their water, in Mother Mary I painted them at her feet, then painted over them, if you stripped away at the many layers in this painting you would see countless amounts of other beautiful paintings underneath, that is why this Mother Mary is a study as I intend to paint her again alongside St Agatha. Mind the Memory there are fish floating in the air, The Female and the Whale the fish is the centrepiece that is within a circle (this painting has an interesting tale to tell, for another blog another day) and in my latest painting Alexithymia, she is holding a goldfish up in front of her, but her gaze is looking beyond it as though she doesn’t recognise its presence. The fish I paint, I suppose, often symbolises a fish out of water and communicates an aspect of not fitting in or a projection of one’s emotions contained, the subconscious self not in its rightful habitat.

Mother Mary and at her Fish stage of painting

Back to my painting Alexithymia, which I named thus, after reading The Body Keeps a Score, I think that was the book where it mentioned Alexithymia being a condition, and I was curious as to what this condition was all about. I googled to find more information and what I found was very interesting indeed, then I created some sketches from there the sketches became a painting. “Alexithymia is a phenomenon involving a lack of emotional awareness or difficulty in identifying and describing feelings and in distinguishing feelings from the bodily sensations of emotional arousal” as described so perfectly in an online article found in Science Direct Quoted from the book, Neuroeconomics (Second Edition) 2014. It’s an interesting condition, in that we all have it to a certain extent, especially where trauma is concerned. This little girl in my painting has no expression as she stares past the fish she holds and looks beyond it. The fish is her subconscious self that is trying to engage with her, but she doesn’t notice. Her memories float around her as pictures in bubble gum bubbles, captured inside them are her drawings of childhood.


Oil on canvas

On display to be sold at the Banks Mill Open Studios. Follow Link

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