18. Dissolving Time – Part 1

‘Essentially virtual (our past experience) cannot be known as something past unless we follow and adopt the movement by which it expands into a present image.’ (Bergson 1950: 173)


Currently untitled, Charcoal, 891x594mm, 2015


Currently untitled, Charcoal, 891x594mm, 2015


Currently untitled, Charcoal, 891x594mm, 2015

Over the last few months I have been using old photos, found images and film stills as source material for drawings based on my ongoing obsession with time and memory. For now I have abandoned experimentation with various medias, solely nurturing my relationship with charcoal and its potential to realize my intentions and reflect these themes.

Here are some notes compiled during this period…

A lost night from a decade ago comes to me through the post. I experience excitement and trepidation, delaying the experience of opening the package and seeing the unremembered past unravel. I try to expect nothing: blackness. The package is opened and I was right to expect nothing. Most of the negative strip is blank, there is nothing but a couple of mundane images of old student acquaintances lounging around the studio, gloomy light coming through a slanted bedroom window and the last couple of shots that I took a week ago to finish up the film. No blurry faces, awkward compositions or incriminating evidence. Where has all of this time gone? – Lost in my mind and swallowed by the light.

Memories judder as I trawl through old photos in the attic. I am excavating, sifting through images to find the distorted, the ambiguous – the true.

Trough the process of dismantling, reconfiguring and transforming these images into drawings, a truth begins to reveal itself where different meanings accrue.

If there is no such thing as now

If the future doesn’t yet exist

And if the past is already dead

What exists?

Are we just ghosts sifting through time?

 Time shifting through ghosts…


‘Virtual memory is dream-like, without fixed identity. Its temporality is fluid. Such memory operates forward and back – a link, an image in formation.’

(Shiff 2008: 27)

Descriptions of Doig’s work often suggest a screen-like quality, something transient, fleeting and in flux, ‘Like the vagaries of memory, transient and shifting’ (Shiff 2008: 26). Doig interests me greatly because of how he draws from a wide variety of material, including: amateur photography, commercial television and film stills, including those from cinema (Echo Lake, based on a scene from Sean Cunningham’s cult horror film Friday the 13th) and his own home videos (Concrete Cabin). There is a subtle blur and disorientating focus within his paintings that create an ambiguity that corresponds to memory, dream and hallucination. This could further explain the filmic qualities within his work.

Echo Lake 1998 Peter Doig born 1959 Presented by the Trustees in honour of Sir Dennis and Lady Stevenson (later Lord and Lady Stevenson of Coddenham), to mark his period as Chairman 1989-98, 1998 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T07467

Peter Doig, Echo Lake, Oil on canvas, 1998


Peter Doig, Concrete Cabin, Oil on Canvas, 1994

I have memories of seeing buildings through trees on the edge of a forest, a feeling of glimpsing an outer man-made world whilst being wrapped in nature and in another magical time and place. Peering through the dark shadows of trees in Doig’s Concrete Cabin (1994) reminds me of these moments.

Referencing a photograph that I discovered of this place remembered I produced this image…


Currently untitled, Charcoal, 891x594mm, 2015


There are memories that resurface from my childhood, images that are dream-like and foreboding. I once questioned whether these images were those remembered from film, dreams or indeed from reality. In her book The Remembered Film (2040) Burgin describes such experiences as ‘Temporal ‘secretions’’ that ‘very often combine memories and fantasies with material from films and other media sources’

In time I came to realize that some of these images were indeed from film. With some investigation I succeeded in tracking down two films that were responsible for the memory images that still lingered in my mind. Both of these films I must have watched at a young susceptible age and both obviously had had a profound affect, ingraining moments in my memory. One of these films was Invaders from Mars (1953) directed by William Cameron Menzies, the other The Changeling (1980) directed by directed by Peter Medak. The nature of both films is one of dread so in many ways it is hardly surprising that the remembered images maintain that sense of doom. However, I feel there are more significant reasons for my mind to select these particular images, for example – perhaps in some way these moments are portentious of moments and events in reality. I believe that through the process of pulling them into a different realm, moving these images into the present these other meanings may become clearer. And this goes for all of the images that I am currently working with, not just film stills.

‘The film still stands for the total ‘momentization’ of a temporal sequence, the automization of a narrative content: its meaning lies where it is not. Outside the pictorial sequence where it properly belongs, it adopts the appearance of randomness and arbitrariness’ (Burgin 2004: 47)

The next two drawings are based on stills from the films mentioned. The first – Invaders from Mars (1953), the second – The Changeling (1980). Something is beginning to happen here, especially in the first drawing where I felt a distinct dissolving of time and the onset of the unfamiliar, the alien beyond the central point. Taken from a snapshot of the still I have also included a line of interference, which I feel creates tension as well as suggests a trace of memory.


Sands of time , Charcoal, 891x594mm, 2015

‘The world around me is dissolving, leaving here and there spots of time’

(Miller 1934: 10)


Currently untitled, Charcoal, 891x594mm, 2015


‘Visual memory seems to always be in flux. Memories are unbound, with divergent edges. You have to move around in them to get to points of clarity’

(Hoffman 2012: 3)


Who were you really?, Charcoal, 594x891mm


Who were you really? This photograph reveals a truth in its blurry, juddered, off-kilter quality – There is an uncertainty of character and of truth itself that foretells its parallel in life. Upon drawing this I witnessed a hall of mirrors where various expressions and emotions reveal themselves one after the other. Still, I look at this and expressions change in a blink of an eye – there is a story.

‘What remains true …is what is most abstract’ (Burgin 2004: 16)


Currently untitled, Charcoal, 891x594mm, 2015



Rowing In A Sea Of Clouds, Charcoal, 891x594mm, 2015

Process of boat drawing…

State of frustration to overcome


Relinquish control

Accepting chance / accident to find truth

Omitting information to reveal truth

 I am forced to sharpen my focus for the image of my granddad’s face is small and not in focus. Without being conscious of it, I am working as much from memory as from what is in front of me. This is quite intense, so I take a break from drawing. I get up and knock the board over – my work is blotted! A ghost of the image remains and a smile appears. I return to the drawing and the work with the smile – then it simply rolls.

 The fragility of time and of charcoal becomes evident. A bit of friction and image becomes blurred. Some of it though is indelible, engrained in the paper.

 As I sit and contemplate this drawing from a distance the river becomes clouds – My granddad is rowing in a sea of clouds.



Currently untitled, Charcoal, 594x891mm, 2015


Time dissolves behind your head

Restoring you in chaos





You emerge from the billow

Anew, yet unreal

A spectral being

With stories to tell





Endless spaces

before and beyond

The edge of the world;

Infinite space





Currently untitled, Charcoal and chalk, 594x891mm, 2015

‘…knowledge of the world means dissolving the solidity of the world.’

(Calvino 1996: 9)


Bergson, H. (1950) Matter & Memory George Allen & Unwin Ltd

Burgin, V (2004) The Remembered Film Reaktion Books Ltd

Calvino, I (1996) Six Memos For The Next Millennium Vintage

Hoffman, E (2012) John Chiara – Fort At Lime Point Von Lintel Gallery

Miller, H (1934) Tropic of Cancer Grafton Books

Nesbitt, J & Shiff, R (2008) Peter Doig Tate Publishing


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