‘Lace’, 2022, oil on board, 40x30cm.

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This painting is of a piece of lace which I’ve inherited. It started as a fairly straightforward impulse to paint something I found beautiful. The astounding craftsmanship of its long-ago maker called for close attention and a response from my craft. The intricate threads provided a chance to think about complex networks of family, society and the physical world.

But as I was painting, my beloved grandmother, who had given it to me, was dying. Her language, once so logical and grounded, was becoming this wild, dreamlike thing with surreal imagery and post-structural syntax. Her body was disintegrating into matter. Self became stuff as physical functions went wrong, and once reliable cells refused to behave.

As this happened, the logic of the painting disintegrated too. Paint stopped behaving. It refused to represent light falling on thread, and became just paint again, sticky and unreliable. I’d pick the board up leaving thumb marks and be unbearably reminded of those I’d left on her water-engorged thighs as I helped her carers turn her.

When she died, I took the lace off the wall. The painting would have to rely on memory now, to exist without its original. I can’t remember when I started to attack it – before or after she died. The violent mark-making, scraping to the point of carving through to the MDF, was nominally to do with making visible the violence of colonialism that lies silently in my family archives (more on this in my previous post) but to be honest it might just have been anger that she was dying.

I think this is why I love paint. That thing Lucien Freud said ‘I want paint to work as flesh’, became vividly true with this one. And the flesh was not behaving as I wanted it to. It was retaining water wrong, bleeding, flaking, blistering and dissolving from an organized arrangement of organs into chaos.

The story of this painting was meant to be different, but in the end it has been a useful way partially to process something incomprehensible. Perhaps it is a pair with ‘Rattle’ – not sure. Will have to paint some more and think about it again.