Artist Laura Onions has been using some of the time that lockdown has afforded her to make new work exploring this context of enforced leisure. These paintings feed into long term bodies of research on reading and pedagogical practices. A selection of these paintings are for sale, raising more for The Haven. Laura, who showed work as part of New Art West Midlands x Coventry Biennial 2019, talks more about her series here.
Reading is a space of solace and resistance, yet over recent months I have struggled to make my way to that space. I pick up a book and feel posed with it – much like the readers in paintings from history, forever unmoving and never turning the page. Who is the reader, then, shattered into so many surfaces? What is her voice? Many have become withdrawn from usual comforts. So, in my enforced leisure, I began painting from my sofa – a kind of reading otherwise through the figure of the reader.
There is always a correspondence between reading (and painting) in place and time. Place can be transformed by reading in it. It can be a means to enter the outside world at a time when we are limited in doing so. Not everyone is able to read under an open sky, but we have the option of abstracting ourselves from our surroundings. This can be a threshold between spaces of uncertainty, or where the body is vulnerable within our exterior and interior lives. The book is a volume in these spaces of spillage and containment – an apprehension of the present, a kind of holding which is also being held.
Which bodies read, which write? Which are audible, which receive? Language is bound up with bodies, raising the question of who is able to articulate, who speaks and who is silent. “The reader beckons the receiver close; someone must recognize her sounds. The writer beckons the reader close; someone must read her signs.” * We lend our voice to mute signs, although we so often read in silence. Perhaps reading offers her the chance to become another. A kind of channelling of voices other than your own.
I like to imagine the figures in these paintings are reading texts that are confessional, autobiographical, even didactic, finding their stories in the literature that provide tools, knowledge, voice and independence. The smaller narratives of our lives have become so much more prevalent and powerful and we should be the readers of those writers, whose identities are denied and have no other place to find their stories except in the literature, “we will have only the future tense. Also each other. The renown we will make audible together, we should use it.” **
A selection of paintings are available to purchase on Laura’s website here in aid of The Haven, a charity in Wolverhampton supporting vulnerable women and children as a result of domestic abuse. You can find out more about the Haven’s work here.
* Quinn Latimer, ‘Signs, Sounds, Metals, Fires or An Economy of Her Reader,’ in, The Documenta 14 Reader, Germany, Prestel Verlag, 2017, p. 273.
** Ibid, p. 296.