My psychoanalytic understanding is central to my practice because before becoming an artist I was a psychotherapist. I am interested in the relationship between myself, as the artist, and the observer, and in what takes place in the imagination of both of us. Imaginative ideas and phantasies exist in what is experienced as a real space or room in our minds. The observer is invited into this space in my mind, containing imaginative ideas, when looking at my artwork. This is a reciprocal process, as the observer has to allow his own imaginative room to be entered and refurnished by me. In the case of sculpture, this metaphorical space is more readily understood, as the work exists in real space.

My intention in creating this my recent work Schreber, depicting disoriented space full of disjointed structures, was to reflect the current political turmoil in the wider world. But while making it, I became unwell with a high temperature and delirium, and I became aware of feelings of anxiety and fragility. This experience gave me an insight into delusional states of mind where imagined ideas and phantasies relating to real events are not located in the area of the mind designated for the imagination, but are instead experienced as having actually taken place.

I wanted to prevent the unstable cardboard structure from falling apart through the use of steel rods, bolts and Meccano. I was preoccupied with how the elements in the sculpture were attached to each other and I lost sight of the totality of my sculpture. This reminded me of Freud’s analysis of Schreber who had a psychotic breakdown and then meticulously recorded his delusional ideas. Freud believed that delusional states were the minds attempts at recovery. Schreber’s ideas did have their own internal logic and coherence, but his delusions entailed losing sight of external reality. The assiduously joined elements in my sculpture reflect the logical internal connections in Schreber’s mind, but the totality can be seen as portraying a disoriented and delusional state of mind.

I would like to investigate psychoanalytic and related themes, such as the blurred boundaries that exist in dreams, psychosis and dementia. I would also like to explore the possibility of working collaboratively with other artists, in which we would be both artists and observers in a shared metaphorical space.

Believing is Seeing – a psychoanalytic consideration of Blake’s ‘The Good and Evil Angels’ and ‘Satan in his Original Glory’

Blake’s work was revolutionary, not least in springing from an original and highly idiosyncratic concentration on visionary imagination. This essay will consider briefly an aspect of this complex theme and make a conjecture about its source.

Blake believed in the divine self, existing in the imagination, regarding anything separate or outside as a source of evil. He thought that truth was formed only by the imagination and not received by perception or influenced by factual evidence. This chimes with psychoanalytic theories that understand the inner world, or unconscious phantasy life, to be as important to the individual as external reality. Blake’s visions would have been of great interest to a psychotherapist and their nature and content would have been explored. But there is a difference between Blake’s ideas and those of psychoanalysis, because what is thought to be helpful to the person in therapy is an understanding of the interplay between internal and external reality.

When I first looked at his paintings I drew completely the wrong conclusions, perhaps because I was seduced by the notion that the white figures symbolized beauty and purity and I did not question this notion. Blake would have concluded that my eyes deceived me, and that I had listened to what I had been taught by others, instead of drawing on my imagination.

The Good and Evil Angels. Blake

On first looking at Blake’s dramatic watercolour ‘The Good and Evil Angels’ I was struck by the dramatic event-taking place in which an evil angel was threatening to take possession of a vulnerable baby who was cradled in the arms of the good angel. The good angel (Raphael or Michael) and the baby are the personification of purity having pure white skin, with the vaguest hint of pink, and pale blonde hair. The good angel looks alarmed and is turning away to prevent the baby from

being stolen and harmed by the devil. The baby’s arms are splayed as in the startle-reflex of young infants, showing that the baby is terrified of falling. The evil angel’s skin is a dark pink with shading and dramatic orange and yellow flames denoting that he is coming from Hell surround him. His face bears a grim unnerving expression that is exaggerated by his having two wall eyes.

It came as a surprise to learn that Blake saw the devil as trying to rescue mankind (the baby) from the ostensibly good angel who stands for what Blake believed to be diabolical authoritarian religion. The carefully drawn muscles and strong physique of the bad angel convey an energetic force, which is being actively curtailed by his foot being shackled. The constrained foot could stand for everything that threatened Blake’s belief in the divine nature of the self. He regarded anyone using empirical investigation to learn and question beliefs as enemies of the mind.

“Professional questioners such as empirical or natural philosophers are agents of Satan – Bacon, Locke and Newton in particular: Bacon for seeking truth through reason as opposed to revelation; Locke for his emphasis on learning through experience as opposed to Blake’s belief that ‘Man is a garden ready planted and sown”’ (Johnson and Grant 1979: 443); and Newton for formulating the laws of nature in a material universe that Blake abhorred and proof by mathematics, which he despised. ‘Science is the Tree of Death’ wrote Blake. (Keynes 1959:777)”1

Blake’s understanding of existence was that of an apocalyptic cycle, starting and finishing with a state of innocence: the divine self. Loss of innocence is a process that commences with conception and continues through life, until innocence is regained upon reconnection with the divine self. Blake’s adherence to an innocent vision of eternal nature could be understood psychologically as being akin to an infant dominated by the pleasure principal. This is a narcissistic stage in our development when survival of the self is paramount and centres on being warm, fed and feeling replete.

“Infancy! Fearless, lustful, happy, nestling for delight
In laps of pleasure. Innocence! honest, open, seeking
The vigorous joys of morning light open to virgin bliss,
Who taught thee modesty, subtil modesty, child of night and sleep?”2

The watercolour “Satan in his Original Glory” (pen and ink watercolor on paper 1805) illustrated his idea of a visionary divine self in possession of an eternal nature. Satan stands majestically framed by diaphanous wings, clad in a cloak with a multitude of tiny fairies in its hem. He has a feminine beauty with arresting brown eyes and his head is full of soft curls. His luminous curvaceous white body has an ethereal quality as he stands centre-stage against the subdued orange and russet hues of his wings and cloak. Blake believed that there were impediments to attaining divine reunion, one of them being the division of the sexes. Satan’s feminine beauty in this picture could be seen as a state of asexuality from a time before the Creation – a state of perfection free from mental pain, conflicting emotions of love and hate and the vicissitudes of human relationships. The apotheosis in Blake’s mind was being reconnected with one’s divine self and in this state sexual or generational differences are non-existent. Satan in his transcendent beauty is in a state of innocence and his open arms could be seen as an invitation to us to emulate him.

Blake’s ideas obliterated differences between the sexes and generations. These beliefs protected him from painful feelings of jealousy and envy, which are aroused by the triangular relationships found in family life. Ronald Britton wrote that,

“Belief, treated as the truth, was for Blake the limiting membrane of an otherwise bottomless void, the only curb on the total mental disintegration that followed the act of creation.”3

The infant is drawn as being in the gripe of the instinctual startle reflex and is pulling away from the adult figures in the painting. The terrified infant is in danger of falling psychologically into the abyss. My conjecture is that there was a traumatic event in Blake’s early life that led him to pull away from relationships with his parents, family and external reality.

My mother groand! my father wept.

Into the dangerous world I leapt:

Helpless, naked, piping loud;

Like a fiend hid in a cloud.

Struggling in my fathers hands:

Striving against my swaddling bands:

Bound and weary I thought best

To sulk upon my mothers breast.4

Was his response to the cruelty of his experiences of the external world to turn to an imaginary world, a visionary understanding of himself and of life?


  1. Ronald Britton, Belief and Imagination (1998), p. 181.
  2. Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1808).
  3. Britton, op cit, p, 180
  4. Infant Sorrow, from Songs of Experience (1794)

Can you psychoanalyse objects?

I do not think you can psychoanalyse objects; but some of the techniques used by psychoanalysts are relevant when relating to objects. Freud discovered an analytic method using free association, acute observation and transference as a means of reaching the unconscious mind. Observation skills are central to understanding the relationship between the analyst and patient. The analyst takes into account the way the patient looks, talks and behaves in the consulting room. He also considers his own feelings and responses to what is communicated by the patient. I think similar processes take place when relating to objects. When confronted by an object I explore what it is made of, how it is formed and what it looks like. It may carry associations or have some symbolic meaning for me, which will affect how I respond to its aesthetic. The history of the object - where did come from and when - are questions in the forefront of my mind, as is who was the person that made it. In analysis the personal history of the patient, events in is his life and family of origin are important facts to think about because they colour the relationship between the analyst and patient.

Objects carry a wealth of meanings because we all project feelings of desire and longings into them. Freud understood this and he realised that his patients transferred powerful feelings, often from childhood, onto the analyst. Freud soon understood that this transference could be used therapeutically and in order to encourage this he asked his patients to free associate or to say whatever came into their minds (a sort of verbal doodling). When looking at objects we do not censor our responses, so we can love or hate them freely. For example, a wedding ring is associated with love when given by a person with whom we are intimately involved, however a very different set of feelings can be aroused if the relationship has turned sour or ended acrimoniously.

Becoming more aware of objects, their significance and meaning led me to explore the social history of the Asylum. In so doing I came across some information about the Victuallers and the one that caught my attention was that they received free medicine and medical care. I searched for an object that I

could use to symbolise medical care and came up with the idea of using the stethoscope. The early stethoscope was composed of many different forms, circular and conical, as well as tubing. It employed a variety materials such as wood, ivory, aluminum and rubber and the result was an aesthetically intriguing object. The stethoscope was used to listen to the chest and by so doing to discover what ailments afflicted the victuallers. There is a parallel here with psychoanalysis as the analyst listens to the patient and tries to understand what is going on inside his mind.

You cannot psychoanalyse an object, but you can analyse yourself and your responses to it.