Critical Reflection

For unit 2 I created a series of paintings based on photographs taken of objects I have collected from thrift stores and flea markets as well as items from the basement in my family home, most of which belonged to my mother’s side, all of whom have passed away. I consider the memories I have tied to these objects and investigate and re-present them, searching for my own place in their stories, inserting myself through the embodied act of painting.


Central to this aspect of my practice is the examination of objects, particularly in relation to death. In order to deepen my understanding of this topic, I read Death, Memory and Material Culture, by E. Hallam and J. Hockey. This text explores the ways humans utilize physical objects as tools for remembering and thinking about death. I was particularly intrigued by the quote, “The unfolding of the social life of the object as it moves through time absorbing or having impressed upon it, traces of its own history.” (Hallam, 2001, p. 50) This led me to think about the ways an object is marked by the story of its life, and if it is something ephemeral as well as physical. In my painting process, I feel my close investigation and repeated making and unmaking of the object is a way to search for unseen histories and embed them as physical marks. 

Denise Kwan’s project “Object-Stories” and Sherry Turkle’s Book Evocative Objects both examine objects in relation to the people who own them and the memories and feelings associated with each item. By having women tell the stories of their lives through personal items, “Object-Stories” looks at the ways belonging and identity are entangled in everyday things. These projects demonstrate how objects are touchstones to events, moments of transition, feelings of happiness, guilt, safety, etc. These emotional responses allow the items to represent more than their physical shape, becoming a “‘temporal conduit’” (Hallam, 2001, p. 50). Turkle’s approach invites readers to consider the study of objects beyond their status as material commodities and inspired me to write my own memories associated with the objects I paint to provoke a deeper connection to them and aid in my process of titling.

Denise Kwan, Object Stories - Ethel

Thinking about the object’s ability to become more than its physical appearance, I consider Cornelia Parker’s Stolen Thunder Tarnish from Charles l's Spurs 1998, a hankerchief stained with oxidized silver from when Parker used it to polish silver belonging to Charles I. The index of this action marks the object, creating a form of portrait that splices history and collapses time. In his book, The System of Objects Baudrillard points out how proximity to or belonging of an object to a famous person can bestow value on it, regardless of its cost or functionality (Baudrillard, 1968, p. 81). In this sense, it is human interaction and human perception which changes the value. Works like this help me to think of the importance of context and how artists direct attention to allow the viewer’s imagination to play a role in creating the work of art in their mind. Also how, through our embodied actions, imprints and traces of ourselves can be seen in the objects we encounter. This way of thinking and viewing allows us to animate inanimate objects, linking them to actions as well as memories.

Cornelia Parker Stolen Thunder Tarnish from Charles l's Spurs 1998

Avoided object, oxdised silver on cotton handkerchief

Annabel Dover is another artist concerned with searching for the invisible stories which exist around objects. Presenting objects related to childhood in whimsical brushstrokes or pencil marks and soft colors on a plain white background, she combines a tender devotion with scientific observation (About). By presenting objects with no additional context, in a vast emptiness the viewer can focus only on the object and is presented an opportunity to project their own thoughts and memories associated with such objects. This viewer participation is in line with a more conceptual work like Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Person Looking. In my own practice, I recognize the types of objects I present, without the context of a room or visual plane, will elicit different recollections and associations depending on who is viewing and how they are displayed. 

Annabel Dover

Michelangelo Pistoletto Person Looking, 1963, Painted tissue paper on polished stainless steel

By using objects belonging to family members who have passed away and thinking about the memories tied to them, my activities are linked to those of artist Fay Ballard. Her Memory Boxes feature items collected from her family home after the death of her father. They explore how by investigating the items left behind after a death, one finds things both familiar and unfamiliar, forgotten and re-remembered. Of this process she says “we discover and rewrite the past, calibrating our memories and thoughts, shifting the sense of ourselves and our life story” (Ballard, 2015). Making artwork around these types of items, we are both searching for the way we fit into the story of our family history, through embodied action. These motions are a way to connect with the deceased, an extension of an act such as the wearing of inherited jewelry or clothing (Hallam, 2001).

Fay Ballard Memory Box: Drawn from Memory (2010-2015) Pencil on Paper


By displaying my paintings as a collection I seek to exert some control over the narrative and direct the viewer's attention to these as objects which are part of a wider assortment of items found unused in a family attic or basement and inspire the viewer to wonder about the lives of the people who owned these objects. To this end, I like to think of the series, displayed together, as a form of cabinet of curiosity. Wunderkammer - as there are also known - were a way of displaying collections in order to demonstrate taste and signify rank in society, in a sense, to allow the owner to control the story of themselves in the eyes of visitors. (Blom, 2003, p. 24) These cabinets also served as a material space for “linkages of images, objects, and concepts” and served to educate and direct viewers thinking, often in regards to meditations on death and scientific discovery (Hallam, 2001, p. 64). Displaying my paintings as a collection is a tool for directing the viewer's attention to not only to individual objects, but how those objects interact with each other and what they come to symbolize when considered as a group. 

JOHANN GEORG HAINZ (C. 1630-1688) A Collector's Cabinet 1664 Oil on canvas | 127.5 x 102.0 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external)

Maggie Shafran Inherited Objects, Invented Histories, 2023, Oil on Canvas and Linen

Mark Dion’s piece at the Tate Modern, Thames Dig 1999 is an example of how an artist uses grouping and cataloging of a collection to influence the way visitors interpret the meaning and value of objects. (see context page for further analysis of this work)

Lisa Milroy makes paintings of objects repeated in either a grid or scattered pattern which can be thought of as a collection. Her use or repetition relates to Baudrillard’s notion that objects become equivalent with each other when their functionality is removed, creating a shift where the power of an object resides in the possession of them as a series (Baudrillard, 2001, p. 92). Milroy’s arrangements have an obsessive quality and call attention to the nuanced differences between each object, making her paintings appear as a meditation on a single type of object, displaying a need to see and master it from all possible angles. Speaking of this activity she says “painting an object over and over again both confirmed my connection to it and my anxiety at its loss” (Biggs, 2011). Her words, once again, remind me of Boudrillard, who spoke of collecting as a “regressive escape offered by the game of possession” (Boudrillard, 2001, p. 103) He argues that collecting functions to alleviate anxiety about death, becoming a way for someone to externalize and control the cycle of life and death, experiencing it as something outside of oneself. A painter who paints objects - either a single object many times, or a series of objects - is performing the act of possession and control. For myself this act is driven by a desire to alleviate anxiety over loss and affirm my own importance. Painting becomes a means to guarantee some longevity or permanence of an object and the memories connected to it - one containing the mark of my labour and craft.  

LISA MILROY Shoes, Oil on Canvas, 203.2 x 259.1 cm. (80 x 102 in.)


Another key element of my practice in Unit 2 has been developing a method of embodied painting that mimics my frenzied fervor for collection and meditative reflection in regards to my place amongst the history of these objects. I begin each piece on a plain white background and, using only one color, indanthrone blue, I sketch an outline of the object. I then wipe it away using a rag. I repeat this process, adding more details with each layer, using the rag to carve the object out of the residue of the obliterated previous shape. This process starts out hurriedly, and as the object begins to take shape, I slow down, focusing on smaller and smaller areas until details are fleshed out, but not exact.

This way of painting is another connection between Lisa Milroy’s practice and my own. She works wet on wet, creating each painting in one day to maintain her connection to it, keeping thought and action bound together as one. I also feel this need to keep moving, to have my actions as a record embedded in the image, allowing for the energetic motions and feelings to transfer to the canvas as well as the need for it to happen almost all at once. As James Elkins puts it in What Painting Is: “Paint is a cast made of the painter’s movements, a portrait of the painter’s body and thoughts” (Elkins, 1999, p. 5). Working in an embodied way, places myself squarely within the story of these objects which now reside within my canvas.  

Along with time constraints, she also limits the number of colors she can use to eight, hoping for a sense of freedom within limitations (Biggs, 2011). Using a limited palette allows for focus on form and movement and prevents one from getting lost in the process of mixing and mimicking exact colors. Although I have taken this further by limiting my palette to a single color.

An artist who utilizes monochrome in their work is Lisa Brice. She created a series of blue paintings of women in fictional spaces that, though imaginary, serve to represent a truth about lived experience. Her use of a rich blue helps add to the ambiguity of the figures. Unable to be defined by age or ethnicity, the blue obscures and therefore liberates the women she paints from being categorized based on visual factors (Charleston — Lisa Brice). She uses an imagined story to speak about a larger, more basic, truth. Living, memories, and existence are not actualized in a single moment, but a depiction of a fictional moment can speak to those experiences and resonate with the soul rather than a specific memory. I hope to do something similar in my work, to elicit feelings of nostalgia without necessarily triggering specific memories. 

Lisa Brice Untitled, 2021 Oil on tracing paper, 41.9 x 29.6 cm (16.5 x 11.7 in)

Christopher Wool is an abstract painter who utilizes both monochrome and a method of accumulation and erasure in his Grey Paintings. Using black lines, he layers and obscurs previous marks, conjuring the language and archaeology of a city wall, creating illegible residual traces that appear and disappear (Christopher Wool). His work reads to me as a sort of palimpsest, defined as: “a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain. something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form” (Stevenson, 2010) To me, this action is linked to memory, and how revisiting memories has a way of overwriting them, making a new memory of remembering, rather than the memory itself. While his work is abstract and mine figurative, I seek in my practice to create an ambiguous visual language, built up and obscured through both making and eradicating marks. I want traces of unknowable stories to reside within the work, ghosts of memories brought to life through my movement and gestures. This is most present in my work, Taper Your Expectations, where echoes of the shape of the candle echo throughout the background.

Christopher Wool with Grey Paintings

Maggie Shafran Taper Your Expectations, 2023, Oil on Linen, 45.7 x 61cm

Going forward into unit 3 I want to experiment with how scale and cropping can contribute to the visual language of my practice. By zooming in and removing the background, I can communicate the feeling of not knowing the full picture, of lack of context. With a change in scale, I can further obscure the object and overwhelm the viewer, mimicking my feelings of disorientation when viewing family objects. I also think the technique I have developed of building up and wiping away, particularly when creating a blurred effect, can be incorporated more into the final image, rather than existing only as a moment in the process of making.

About (no date) Annabel Dover. Available at: (Accessed: 20 April 2023).

Ballard, F. (2015) ‘House Clearance’. Available at: (Accessed: 9 May 2023).

Baudrillard, J. (1968) The System of Objects. Verso Books.

Biggs, L. and. Milroy, L. (2011) ‘Painting Fast Painting Slow’. Available at: (Accessed: 11 April 2023).

Blom, P. (2003) To Have and to Hold: An Intimate History of Collectors and Collecting. Penguin.

Charleston — Lisa Brice (no date) Charleston. Available at: (Accessed: 13 April 2023).

Christopher Wool. Untitled. 2007 | MoMA (no date) The Museum of Modern Art. Available at: (Accessed: 5 April 2023).

Cornelia Parker Wall Text

Elkins, J., 2019. What Painting Is. Routledge.

Hallam, E. and Hockey, J. (2001) Death, Memory and Material Culture. Bloomsbury Academic.

Katy Hessel explores the work of Nina Hamnett and Lisa Brice (2021). Available at: (Accessed: 22 May 2023).

Lisa Brice (no date) Thaddaeus Ropac. Available at: (Accessed: 22 May 2023).

Object-Stories of British Chinese Women (no date) Object-Stories of British Chinese Women. Available at: (Accessed: 10 April 2023).

Stevenson, A. (2010) Oxford Dictionary of English. OUP Oxford.

Turkle, S. (2007) Evocative Objects: Things We Think with. MIT Press.