FELICITY ALLEN AND SIMON SMITH: Six Encounters – London and Ramsgate

Six Encounters: London & Ramsgate, October & November 2015

A five-year dialogic portraits project, Begin Again, produced many discussions between the 76 sitters and me concerning portraiture. Time and again I became aware of the labour of sitting. Some sitters saw their watercolour portraits as documents of time spent between us: the qualities of translucency, wash and layering paint on paper, associated with the sketch, typically characterises this form of painting with the single event of its production.

Six Encounters emerged from this background when chance led my husband Simon Smith to substitute for a sitting planned for Joan Blackburn, the widow of American poet Paul Blackburn whose Journal poems Smith had been discussing with me over the previous few months. As I lay down some early marks on the paper I suggested to Simon that he might write a journal-type poem from the sitting which I could then handwrite in the gap I had left at the bottom of the paper.

Preparing the paper for Joan’s sitting, I had left the gap in anticipation of writing something as yet unknown. In Begin Again, as well as recorded interviews made with each sitter, I had written a reflective note – in diaristic prose – following each sitting (I made a minimum of two watercolours per sitter). Now I wanted to try incorporating the text on to the same piece of paper that carried the portrait. As my eyes scoured Simon’s face for marks my brush would make, the idea developed: not just a single portrait, a single poem, but multiple, acknowledging continuities of subjectivity and labour. Watercolour portraits & poems as manifestations of a series of encounters between us, articulations of wavering variations of time, mood, facts, words, brush-strokes.

He sits, thinking about what might go into a poem, blind to the picture I am making on the other side of the drawing board. I can never foresee the poem. Initially I suggested a dozen. This is the first batch.

Felicity Allen

April 2015

CLICK HERE: Six Encounters – London and Ramsgate



SIMON SMITH is senior lecturer in creative writing at the University of Kent. His fifth full-length collection of poetry, 11781 W. Sunset Boulevard, was published by Shearsman Books in January 2014. Essays on his work have appeared at The Fortnightly Review and The Los Angeles Review of Books.

FELICITY ALLEN is a London-based artist, educator and writer. A founder member of the Women’s Art Library, she has held lecturing positions at Goldsmiths and other leading art schools and was Head of Learning at Tate Britain (2003–10). She was a guest scholar at the Getty Research Institute 2011-2012. Felicity’s work centres around art: through practice; writing; its display, management and institutions; and art education. Her work is independent, sometimes solitary, as well as a medium for dialogue, exchange and collaboration. Current practice is a dialogic portraits project produced in the form of books and for exhibition.


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