Trains of thought | Ellen Rogers

Ellen Rogers

Trains of thought

Trains of thought

The aesthetic for this project came about in a way that was amusing to me.I had a vague idea of how I wanted my project to look, based on Rodin’s Gates of Hell. But the final leap came unexpectedly.

Part way through last year I was dating a man who was considerably different to me. The things that bothered him were very (very) different to the things that bothered me.  We were opposing forces politically and generally in most regards.

I genuinely dislike a trait of mine, that much to my own annoyance I am painfully aggravated by some aesthetic decisions. I know I’m not alone, many artists share this grievance. I get very hung up on the way things look in my surroundings, right down to every texture and shade of colour. It can unwillingly change my entire mood if something rubs me up the wrong way.

We spent a fair amount of time in each other’s homes and he had some artwork on his bedroom walls that really niggled at me. Most of it I could ignore, but there is genuinely something wrong with me and this one piece of work shouted and I do mean shouted at me. Immediately upon seeing it I had my back up and I wanted to know all about it. Over the months we were dating, It turned out this painting was commissioned by the man I was dating. He had taken shine to a Zen Kōan of which it was based. 

It goes as follows.

Sun Face Buddha, Moon Face Buddha.
What kind of people were the Ancient Emperors?
For twenty years I have suffered bitterly.
How many times have I gone down into the Blue Dragon’s cave for you?
This distress is worth recounting.
Clear eyed patch robed monks should not take it lightly.

Beautiful I'm sure you'll agree? I too found this Kōan moving!

But as established, this painting had been winding me up a lot, an awful lot. I tried to overlook it because of the lovely Kōan. But it always crept into my thoughts and that fatally reminded me that it could never work between us. At times I hated it (irrational I know). I thought it was naive, chintzy and lacked modesty. I also spent time thinking about how it barely symbolised the complexities of its inspiration, which was its entire purpose, it's one job!

On the regular, the owner of the painting and I would be having an intimate moment then I’d see it in the corner of my eye and I’d feel an internal ‘ughhh’ building.
To say a little about it, its dominant colours are Blue (imagine Klein blue) and a chalky Yellow, living side by side. With a comic like, naively drawn sun/moon faced Buddha, placed with surprising iconic composition, framed by a dragon circling it. I always wanted to place the dragon in the middle and I wanted it to adhere to the rule of thirds, but it didn’t, so the dragon looked as though it was pushed to the side way too much. I wanted it to have more room to breathe.  I’d think about re-composing that painting for literal days on end. I actually used to daydream about it and mull it over like a puzzle. I think I enjoyed it's irritation. 

The thing that kept me hooked, as with all mysteries, were the redeeming features. It was well-weighted, it had more room at the bottom, grounding the image. The Buddha in the middle was placed in the iconic composition (although the faces were ill balanced-with the sun face hogging too much room). The shades of Yellow and Blue didn’t clash as much as they could have because he’d (I knew this much about him, he was a white british man) had chosen relatively tasteful variants of these colours. And there was a repetition of texture in various areas that encouraged the eye to travel around the canvas taking in the image.

I even spent time imagining the artist, he had emulated the graphic line popularised by Mucha and the comic industry as a whole. The confidence in his brazen strokes seemed quite rare; I wondered if he was an enthusiastic person socially, I felt he was. I felt also there was a confidence that suggested he had painted many images like this so he might have a studio perhaps, maybe it was covered in acrylic paint. Sometimes when I’d think of the painting it would conjure up a familiar feeling of teenage handwriting, my teenage handwriting maybe. I often think of teenage handwriting as confident, enthusiastic and wonderfully innocent. Indeed, this strange art had crept up on me and made more of an impression on me than I had hoped it would when I first saw it.

So I considered it something of a cosmic joke I thoroughly deserved when I saw a reimagining immerge in my own work some months after the dissolution of the relationship with its owner.

One day I was sitting in my studio struggling with a list of points I wanted to convey. I wanted movement, or suggested movement, the suggestion of a change of consciousness/human transcendence and I was wondering how the bloody hell I was meant to do that, at all. I reverted to the age-old technique of mucking about. I printed all the images I had photographed and I started to cut them up. I hoped my unconscious would take over and help me out of this conundrum.  So day after day I would make collages in my studio, in the hope that I could springboard off them to find a composition I liked.

After about 2 months of unsuccessful attempts (they were awful), I came back to earth and realised I’d made this… The only composition I liked.


Bear in mind this is just me playing around looking for a starting point.

But, oh dear, I had also awoken to realise it’s my unconscious reimagining of that painting!  I’d used the same shades, and I’d combined the human elements and the symbolic dragon, then placed it in the middle as I’d re-imagined doing so, so many times.

However ironic, I had realised that my strained relationship with that painting had lead me to hit on something…  It reminded me of a technique I’d been working on years earlier. It was this photo… (As shown in my previous post; It’s terrible, please don’t judge me with the same unfair scorn I place on an ex’s commissioned art, although I don’t blame you if you do.)

So I resurrected that idea, played around until it felt right (this in itself took months, about four months) And Voila! Eventually, I made this, based on the dragon composition from the collage brainstorming session, based on the Kōan painting (I'm sure I could have worded that better). maxinemarytests029Then I worked on a new print in colour... untitled (10 of 12)

Now my idea and technique was ready I could move on to the rest of the set and it’ was all down to my irrational and unnecessary dislike of a painting; One of which I now have a deep fondness for.

It reminded me of a quote I had read by Paul Virillio, one I think on often.  

Images contaminate us like viruses. They are not informative images which inform us in the sense of feedback, and of comprehension, but in the sense of an epidemic, in the sense of contamination.”[1].

This image to me was not only symbolic to me, it was affective. It affected me. And I wonder if this happens to us everyday, that we are polluted at times by all the images we see, not just the ones that shout for our attention, calling your name as this one did to me. 

NB:  I know ‘winding me up’ isn’t a phrase used a great deal outside of the UK, I had no idea it was a British turn of phrase until I was away on a trip to Slovakia with two Canadian friends, when I said to one, ‘I’m sorry for winding you up’. I saw him looking up this phrase on his phone later that day.


[1] Virilio, Baudrillard and Hall (1988) pg. 5: The Work of Art in the Electronic Age: Interviews with Paul Virilio, Jean Baudrillard and Stuart Hall.

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