Straight from the Nerves

Untitled nude (c)2011 Shireen Qureshi

Untitled Nude, (c)2011 Shireen Qureshi, oil and charcoal on canvas

Shireen Qureshi was a studio member of Cor Blimey Arts in 2011 and it was on one of my working trips to Core Gallery when I first met Shireen.  I remember the moment so vividly, I was passing her studio and the door happened to be open; as I glanced in I was stopped in my tracks.  Sitting alone and unnoticed, as if set aside purposefully, was her untitled and unfinished nude painting.  It pulled me in emotionally and literally as I stepped into her studio, that is when I met Shireen.  We talked briefly about her work then I went on about my day, but I couldn’t get Shireen’s painting out of my mind.  Feeling a little unsure in that moment of how it would fit in overall with the exhibition, I trusted my gut instinct and invited Shireen to show the work with This ‘Me’ of Mine, asking her if she would leave the painting exactly as it was and not finish it.  She was a little nervous about my request but gave it some serious consideration and finally agreed – I’m delighted she did.

Jane Boyer: Your Untitled Nude has a very definite feeling of movement and struggle, the figure is almost writhing, but the hand is quite firmly placed and supports or propels the body’s turning.  Can you tell us more about this painting and why the hand is black?  It’s the thing that attracted me to this work.

Blue Lamp (c)2011 Shireen Qureshi

Blue Lamp, (c)2011 Shireen Qureshi, oil on canvas

Shireen Qureshi:This painting was painted very instinctively – straight from the nerves, and for me, was left at quite an early and exciting stage of its development. Within my mind this painting developed specifically from the simple action of a body turning over in bed, or getting out of bed. I wanted the body to be engulfed in a dark space. The heavy sense of contrast in this work is the result of this struggle, to create a kind of dark in which the body remains illuminated, but I like the way the attempt to achieve this has resulted in a body which has almost been doused in a liquid darkness which encircles it. I am also happy with the way certain borders and parts of the body are lost. The hand is black because I was trying to force it downwards into the darkness, and also pin the body to the canvas so that it was no longer floating in space but supported within a suggested reality. I like the way Francis Bacon used things like syringes or arrows in his work to pin his bodies down – I often try to use similar devices as I like to secure my more free flowing bodies to something. It’s like a full stop, locking the body-prisoner in place.

Fall (c)2010 Shireen Qureshi

Fall, (c)2010 Shireen Qureshi, oil on canvas

JB: You share other things with Bacon, the domestic settings, the violence, the bodily functions and the ‘body-prisoner’ as you put it; the self subjected to context in other words.  It could be argued the self in Bacon’s work exists between annihilation and the struggle in the moments just before annihilation, an idea suggested by his work with crucifixions, his screams and his interest in paintings of abattoirs, butchers and meat.[1]   How do you view this struggle and the annihilation of the self?

SQ: Bacon has been a huge influence on me and I think that this struggle is an interesting moment to paint because it captures a person perhaps at a moment when they are most present in the form of an instinctive, uncontrollable self. This moment of high drama gives passage to an altered state of being, and as Bacon stated ‘I’m just trying to make images as accurately off my nervous system as I can.’[2]  What could be more real than the presence of a body in the face of its destruction, it is in these moments that a person becomes aware, in a visceral sense, of what they are made up of – organs, blood, skin and bone.

Hand in Hair (c)2010 Shireen Qureshi

Hand in Hair, (c)2010 Shireen Qureshi, oil on canvas

JB: Deleuze suggests we are an event; meaning that out of a chaos in which conditions have come together to form a ‘one’ or have passed through ‘a screen’ which allows something rather than nothing to happen.[3]  There is a sense of ‘event’ in your tableaus and the figures are that ‘event’, as if we are witnessing the coalescing of a self, how do you see this?  Do you feel the passage of time is relevant to the self?

SQ: It is interesting that you suggest that we are witnessing the coalescing of a self in my work because in my mind I am more interested in breaking down the body, of rupturing boundaries. I often initiate a painting by making it look real and then trying to break it down, by overlapping bodies or breaking apart skin and bone, I suppose in that sense the aim for me is towards chaos rather than from it. But I think that this is a very interesting idea, especially the sense of an ‘event’ you describe in my work, forcing my viewers into the role of witness.

Lying Body (c)2010 Shireen Qureshi

Lying Body, (c)2010 Shireen Qureshi, oil on canvas

I think that if the paintings have created any sense of inescapable drama pinning both my figures and viewers in place, then this is an achievement in itself.

From my point of view, the passage of time is interesting because it is within a space of time that metamorphosis and transformation can occur. I would like to create a sense of movement, an undulation within each of my paintings as if they were bubbles of captured space and time. I think that time is inescapably relevant to the self because it is within time that a self is built or deconstructed, subjected to the violence of existence, and within which the self moves, inevitably, towards death.


Read Struggle in the Moment of Difference on Art Pie.

[1] ‘Francis Bacon (1910-1992) Interview with David Sylvester’, Art in Theory 1900-2000, ed. Charles Harrison & Paul Wood, p. 635-9.

“I’ve always been very moved by pictures about slaughterhouses and meat, and to me they belong very much to the whole thing of the Crucifixion.  There’ve been extraordinary photographs which have been done of animals just being taken up before they were slaughtered; and the smell of death.  We don’t know, of course, but it appears by these photographs that they’re so aware of what is going to happen to them, they do everything to attempt to escape.”

[2] Interviews with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester, London, Thames & Hudson p.82

[3] The Fold, Giles Delueze, 1st ed Athlone Press, 1993, reprinted Continuum Publishing, 2006, p.86

In an effort to raise funds for This ‘Me’ of Mine, I’ve asked the artists to share a list of books they find informative for their practice. Follow the links here or visit the BOOKSHOP to see all the books suggested so far. We hope you will see something inspiring for your own interests.

If you enjoyed this interview, be sure to participate in our This ‘Me’ of Mine Companion Book head-count, see the footer section at the bottom of the page for the sign-up form and more information.

Shireen’s Reading List:

Interviews with Francis Bacon by David Sylvester

The Eyes Mind: Bridget Riley: Collected Writings 1965-1999 by Bridget Riley and Robert Kudielka

Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes

Blue of Noon by Georges Bataille

In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki

Francesca Woodman by Chris Townsend

The Logic of Sensation by Gilles Deleuze  (note: this can be found under Aly Helyer’s suggested reading in the Bookshop)

Jane’s Additions:

The Stranger by Albert Camus

Strangers to Ourselves by Julia Kristeva

Deleuze: The Clamour of Being by Alain Badiou

If you enjoy what you see here, follow the progress of the project by clicking the ‘follow’ button at the bottom of the page and share content you really like using the ‘share this’ buttons below each article.

We would love to talk with you, feel free to leave us a comment too.

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One thought on “Straight from the Nerves

  1. […] more of our interview, ‘Straight from the Nerves’ on the This ‘Me’ of Mine […]

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