second sitting…


Simon comes to the studio carrying  a cardboard cup of hot coffee in his hand. It is his hands that I want to work on today. There is a vulnerability that I see – ‘feel’ – less in the eyes than in the hands.

His immediate reaction to seeing how the painting has developed is encouraging. His “I like that!” is spontaneous and exclamatory rather than deriving from any sense of politeness. I ask myself how I really feel about this response. Am I pleased? Of course. Does it matter? Not so much perhaps. Does the fact that he likes the painting suggest too that he feels comfortable with it? If so, is this a good thing? Does it reflect the possibility that I have not captured the discomfort that truth in painting often evokes? The nature of portraiture here, in relation to the Doctor:Patient:Doctor project is in question. In my next post I will address the complexity of how I see this particular portrait in more detail.

Our conversation is less in depth than in the first sitting. I need to focus. I am aware of taking more time, of slowing down in order to fully understand the difference between the physical nuances – the ‘identity’ and significance of Simon’s  hands and the manner in which I use ‘constructive anatomy’ to draw hands in general.  I draw in graphite in my sketchbook . I then ‘place’ the hands in charcoal on the canvas. I will brush in the first layers of paint later on. I do not need Simon here for that.

(Images are work in progress)



first sitting

Philosophy, science, and art want us to tear open the firmament and plunge into chaos.

Gilles Deleuze

IMG_0735 copyI clear up the studio before Simon comes. It seems important somehow that the place be clean and tidy although I question myself as to why even as I sweep. I have a vague feeling of anxiety about how this first session will go – how I will deal with all of the expectations that come with the very act of portraiture, this time beyond any real context; expectations of myself perhaps more than any that Simon may bring with him. It feels as if all my ‘philosophy’, the chaotic stream of consciousness that pervades and gives a sense of fractured meaning to my daily life, is coming together in me in order to bring the relationship between science and art right to my studio door. I wonder if Simon will be willing to plunge, or at least to step into the chaos with me.

We begin with the pleasantries but it takes very little time before we do indeed ‘plunge’ into the narrative form of his experience, beginning with how he feels about the project overall.

A life experienced consists of the images, feelings, sentiments, desires, thoughts and meanings known to the person whose life it is… A life as told, a life history, is a narrative, influenced by the cultural conventions of telling, by the audience and by the social context.


I wrote the folowing once in an essay about the Deleuzean concept of schizoanalysis in relation to visual art.

As an artist I work with images, and in terms of imagery we might note Arthur Frank’s assertion that Lacan’s concept of the ‘imaginary order’ suggests that what we call the self is always a ‘sedimentation of images from elsewhere’, and moreover that ‘these images are worn like armour’. (Frank 1997: 46) The body is protected then by a metaphoric metal carapace so that the body image, as objectified and understood through recognition, can dominate the overall concept of body-self and remain fundamentally unaffected and unchanged by subjective ‘lived’ experience.

Simon talks about the carapace – a defensive structure but one within which he has come to understand and, in understanding seeks to discard, the resilience to subjectivity.

Where you really find you can’t make a difference because you haven’t the managerial support to do so you actually become very hardened and get to a point where, you know, I sort of no longer liked what I’d become…but I almost have to go back to my experience with cancer to get back in touch …so in certain ways this project is allowing me to kind of learn how to care again …to get back in touch with the person that went into palliative medicine.

His own body- image then, as a junior doctor clad in confidence and black and silver pinstripe, was to change at the onset of his cancer. There is the subject of his narrative.

We sit – we talk – I make some sketches. A narrative unfolds, a temporality of what was punctuated by what is our present translated through particular choices in music!

Again from my essay:

The facility of narrative to interrelate verbal communication and the act of drawing, where conventional language is translated through my creative response into visual language, defines its fundamental importance in the project as a whole. This becomes clear in the analogous relations between ‘data’ (in this case Simon’s story) and process (my sketches), and the two primary narrative forms. Linear narrative, fundamentally sequential and premised on logic with a beginning, middle and end, is the form in which subjects ‘tell their stories’. Conversely, non-linear narrative eschews logic and includes contradictory elements such as interruption, circular and/or unfinished references and ‘chronological anarchy’, all of which are evidenced in the creative process wherein drawings often ‘become’ in their own right far more than I ever expected as I try to capture the nuances of narrative in and in-between lines, tones, and layers of colour. The drawings are more explorative than interpretive because where Deleuze asserts that people are made up of varied lines – indeed there is a whole ‘geography’ in people – I seek to explore new landscapes and chase new horizons.

We found very, surprisingly, quickly ‘the Look’, the attitude of the sitter that moves the soul of the painter, the look that goes far beyond the gaze and which every artist seeks.

The drawings I refer to above are yet to come. The painting is in progress.


it begins…

As an artist and writer with a deep interest in the relation between art and medicine I am very happy to be working on the Doctor : Patient : Doctor project. As a way of introduction this first post on my blog page consists of my ‘Artist’s Statement’.

As the project continues I will be posting regularly here and please feel free to leave any any comments or feedback either on the work itself or the rationale behind it.

Jac Saorsa, February 2016

Artist Statement

Art and medical science have romanced each other throughout history. As an artist and researcher the focus of my work is to reinstate the import of art in relation to medical science and achieve a productive balance between the objective necessity to treat the disease, and a more subjective understanding of the existential experience of illness. This calls for a re-negotiation of arts role and value in relation to medicine and contemporary practice, and, as an artist ‘in medicine’ I work towards the advocacy of patient autonomy and the ‘humanisation’ of the medical relationship. Using portraiture as a conceptual and articulatory ‘framework’ I understand my visual work as creating what I call a ‘meta-language’, a form of communication through art practice that goes beyond both the verbal language with which the patient tells his or her story, and the visual language manifest in my drawings and paintings.

Through my own experience of working with patients and with health professionals in the clinic, the ward, or the operating theatre environment (and indeed in the dissection lab) I have come to understand what I do as an empathic ‘act of witness’. My practice as a whole is based on observation and reflection on personal experience. The ‘autoethnographic stance’ is a position that I have been developing throughout my research wherein the concept of ‘abjection’ is profoundly understood as beyond its usual interpretation. I position myself then as the ‘abject artist’, or more precisely, as Kristeva’s ‘deject’, through whom the abject exists.

My aim is not to posit objective truths, but rather to expand and enrich the dialogue between art and medical science through offering subjective insight. The results of my work, in public art exhibitions and in digital and written form, are intended to communicate across the boundaries of convention and taboo. The meta-language created in and through the artwork becomes itself a ‘voice’ that can articulate the nuances of suffering so that, in dialogue with the drawings, the viewer is invited to engage at a profound, intuitive level and thus enhance his or her awareness and understanding of the existential and very ‘human’ experience of illness

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