Caught in a block of time no 1

Four individual portraits in pen & ink on Casson paper in a reddish and sepia colour

Welcome to TOUCHING THE CREATIVE FIRE… the space where I explore my experience of the Creative Process.

I hope you had a wonderful festive season, and I send best wishes for the coming years.  May 2017 be one of your best.

For those new to my blog my name is Marie Laywine. I’m an artist. In my painting I work with what I call the ‘interior landscape’; I use images and ideas from my dreams to help me represent visually the mountain ranges and coastal plains inside myself and the imaginery.

In this blog I want to explore my idea of being ‘caught in a block of time’, what this means for me and how it’s worked its way into my work.

Something happened to me this morning that reawakened the idea of being ‘caught in a block of time’.  This was an idea I worked with while living and painting in Brittany, France. Thirty years later I have a clearer understanding of what the idea means to me.  It finally made its way into my conscious to an unforeseen incident.  This is what happened.

A few days ago, I came downstairs to make myself an early morning cup of coffee and to feed the new addition in my household. Miss Molly is a six-year-old ‘retired’ breeder’s cat I’ve taken in. She’s been restricted to the kitchen area to give her time to adjust to her new surroundings.

As I near the kitchen door, my nose tells me that Miss Molly has spoken to me. I open the door cautiously. Miss Molly has failed to use her litter tray. A thought comes into my head. I provided the litter tray; Miss Molly was to use it, and she didn’t.

Something in me erupts. It is so immediate I fear I cannot control it.

A stream of words comes pouring out of my mouth, none complimentary.

My belly is on fire.

I want to lash out.

I am a woman possessed.

Under these conditions, I feel I cannot operate responsibly.

I grit my teeth. I’ll make my coffee. I’ll take it upstairs. I’ll cool down.

While I’m having my coffee in bed, I begin to reflect on my outburst.

I begin my introspection by re-experiencing the moment I came upon the mess in the kitchen. There was a non-verbal agreement between Miss Molly and me, and she’s broken it. I recognize the familiarity of a broken agreement. The non-verbal agreement I made with my mother was that I would abandon my imagination for her acceptance of me as a child who met her expectations.

This non-verbal agreement was broken when she died, abandoning me in the drudgery of her everyday world. When this situation presents itself, it never fails to trigger off the reaction I’ve just experienced.

My curiosity is aroused because the incident in itself did not warrant such a reaction. It is Miss Molly’s first few days in a new environment. I review what’s happened and feel I’m getting closer to understanding what lies behind my outburst. I’m so close I can almost touch it. And then in a moment of pure clarity I see myself as a child in Miss Molly’s situation and I feel my mother standing over me. It’s a devastating moment where I feel I’ll be swallowed up by my mother’s anger.

I realise I’ve taken on my mother’s reaction when I displeased her, just as Miss Molly has caused me displeasure and disappointment by failing to use the litter tray. Her anger has become mine.

The outburst over Miss Molly feels so archaic. It goes far back in time. It feels like an outburst I’ve experienced as a child. I’m caught in the unconscious memory of that moment.

‘Caught in a block of time’ is a phrase I use to describe that moment in my past that’s reawakened in the present by a certain turn of events, and plays itself out now as it did then because I’m caught in it emotionally. The only difference is that I did to Miss Molly what my mother did to me; I’ve taken on my mother’s role. I ask myself: is this reaction all I know? I don’t know what the opposite of this reaction could be. I cannot visualize this scenario because I’ve never seen or experienced it. This idea never occurred to me until now.

The episode with Miss Molly is changing my childhood perception of this moment. I feel my mother shaped this reaction in me to disappointment and frustration. Her death denied me of any opportunity to update, so the reaction became my default position when I’m faced with a broken agreement.

The non-verbal agreement is of particular interest to me. I realise it was one I created in my head, on my own; neither my mother nor Miss Molly had anything to do with it. I figured it was my way, all those years ago, of pleading or bargaining when all was not in harmony in the world that included me and my mother; somehow it would make everything come out right.

TITLE: Caught in a block of Time no. 2

MEDIUM: acrylic & graphite on laminated rice paper

In private collection

This painting was done shortly after I left the small village of Parsil in the Himalayas to come to Great Britain. I was in the process of digesting the full impact of the time spent in my home in the mountain and the extensive body of work that came out of that period. I had connected very deeply with the children there, whose lives were dictated by the needs of a community living on the edge of survival. I felt that I had connected so strongly to something we had in common: the need to satisfy the demands of an authoritarian figure who was responsible for the survival of a unit. On the mountain it was survival of the village. With my mother it was the survival of her family. The children were tools to ensure that it happened.

I recall the process of developing this image. I recall the struggle I experienced with my attempts to give form to this nebulous ‘something’ I was feeling but could not identify.

It was strong.

It was vibrant.

It was real.

It wanted to speak.

I approached the painting from a literal point of view. I used lines to indicate the connections between mother and child. I used segments in an opaque aqua to indicate ‘blocks’. It could also represent a trans-generational trauma. In my mother’s childhood, did her mother model the same reaction, I wonder.

TITLE: Caught in a block of Time no. 2

MEDIUM: acrylic & graphite on laminated rice paper

In private collection

In this medium-sized painting I’ve limited the palette to two colours, a deep aqua and a transparent yellow glaze that covers the background. Graphite markings in the background come through the transparent yellow glaze.

The surface of the painting is divided into five segments outlined in a deep opaque aqua and sitting in the yellow background. The bottom segment is the largest and occupies a third of the painting. In this segment is a mature figure in a prostrate position with eyes closed.

The figure is outlined with a golden band. From the figure’s bottom lip is a golden thread that crosses segments one and two and attaches itself to the bottom lip of the child figure in the third segment.

There is an ‘umbilical’ attachment coming from below the first segment and connecting with the child’s own cord-like thread. This thread extends to connect with the left side of the divided top segment on the upper left side of the painting; this segment rests lightly on the head of the child figure.

I used lines to represent how information is transferred from adult to child. For me that information was verbal, hence the line from the bottom lip of the mature figure to the lip of the child. The strongest line is the umbilical attachment, which represents the psychic bonding that happens at birth. I feel that as a child I was prepared to safeguard the bond whatever the cost. I feel this emotion drove what I previously called the ‘non-verbal agreement’, which was one-sided on my part.

I limited the painting surface to two colours to represent the limitation in a child’s world where feelings are dominant and they have little or non verbal skill to speak of those feelings.

I first came across my idea of being ‘CAUGHT IN A BLOCK OF TIME’ while living and painting in Quimper, northern France. I felt I was walking in a landscape that experienced problems similar to mine. I made that connection on an intuitive level only.

The connection here was strong, vibrant and needed a voice, too.

I became aware of the nuance of division between the traditional folk and their contemporary counterparts. The traditional faction wanted to hold on to the tradition of their language (different from the rest of France) their music, dress, and folklore. The culture was heavily invested in death and overseen by a dominant Roman Catholic religion. Their folklore was steeped in superstition and the people were highly suspicious in nature. This combination led to events that bordered on the edge of very bad drama. The use of sorcerers was common, even though medical doctors were available.

Furthermore, the traditional folk wanted to separate from France to allow themselves to retain the authenticity of the Breton tradition. It was as though they wanted time to stand still in their part of the world.

These people wanted something the rest of the country could not give them: acceptance of the unique quality of their culture. These people considered themselves Breton first and French second. This was seen as backwards by their contemporary counterparts, who wanted to be seen as French and to be part of France.

I saw and felt the fixed quality in the hardness of their inflexibility for ideas other than their own. I saw and felt their strong conviction in their determination to hold on to their position at all costs. And I saw and felt the intolerance for others outside their community. The result was an undercurrent of unexpressed anger ready to erupt at the slightest provocation.

This was the same undercurrent I felt when I met my mother’s needs at my own expense, and when, in return, she could not give me what I wanted: to be accepted as I was.

I felt the Breton people were ‘caught in a block of time’ on a broader spectrum involving a whole province in France, whereas I was ‘caught in a block of time’ that was personal and limited to my family unit. I recognised the common ground of our connection on an intuitive level because the idea had not yet reached full consciousness for me.

At this point I was able to express what I’d connected with only in image form.

Caught in a block of time no 1

TITLE: Caught in a block of Time No.1

MEDIUM: pen & ink on Casson paper

In private collection

CAUGHT IN A BLOCK OF TIME NO. 1 is a series of four portraits rendered in coloured ink on Casson paper.

In all four portraits there is a trance-like quality in the gaze. In all four figures, only the right eye is heavily outlined. The lips in the figure in the upper left hand corner are well defined and completely obscured in the remaining three. Three of the figures are in the same colour, while the figure in the lower right hand corner is rendered in sepia.

The figures were drawn separately in my studio in Quimper, Brittany, where I lived and painted for a year.

In hindsight I see that my connection with the situation in Brittany was similar to the situation I had experienced with my mother – adaptation to the needs of an authoritarian figure: me to my mother and the Breton people to their government.

The unexpressed anger I now recognise is mine and the result of not being able to speak out. The Breton people spoke out but they were not heard. The anger, the fury, is speaking independently about how disempowered we both felt. I called this unconscious memory our ‘common ground’.

In ‘Caught in a block of Time No.1’ I captured the feeling of a child’s disempowerment, of a culture where power is one-sided.

In the individual portraits, the faculties of seeing and speaking are severely limited, and hearing is passive and on the receiving end. It doesn’t stop here; it goes silent and inward with the emotions attached ready to be awakened anytime.

I wonder how much more here is to the Miss Molly episode. My curiosity is intrigued. I want to re-experience my outburst. I want to dismantle it step by step. I mentally re-visit the scene of the crime.

First, I notice that I am puzzled by the smell. It’s foreign.

I feel my heart constricting as I discover that the smell displeases me.

I feel disappointed. I gave Miss Molly a litter tray; she did not use it. Dismay moves through my body.

I feel I need to do something. I look around. I take on the responsibility of making the necessary correction to return the situation to the ‘agreed’ position. In this instance, it is cleaning up Molly’s mess. As I clean, I begin to fume. I’m being made to do something I don’t want to do.

I begin to resent.

Within me the tension created by the resentment reaches the point of anger and turns into a hard kernel that invades my body, my thoughts, my being. The anger has taken me over. All that exists for me in that moment of hardness is hatred, vile thoughts directed at the object of disappointment.

I become a pulsating hard core of savagery with an urge to kill, to destroy, wipe it off the face of the earth.

I am in a rage. I want to destroy the ‘other’. The venom becomes a verbal diatribe where I release the unbearable situation that’s invaded my body.

I realise that the feelings I’m experiencing are probably the same feelings a small child experiences when asking for something and not receiving it. This places my rage in my early development. I project the vileness onto the object of disappointment. Again, in a small child this feeling would increase tension, because to destroy the mother is destroying the child’s chances of survival.

Eventually, the body can no longer contain this high level of energy. The anger dissipates; contrition follows.

Finally I reach the conclusion that this is what I experienced in my mother’s disappointment as a child with an imagination that was beyond her comprehension.

This experience had remained, unexpressed, in the domain of the unconscious only to come alive again when reawakened. This is where my imagination understood the word ‘caught’ because I was caught in the emotions of the outburst.

When this happens, the spirit of who I am as a person becomes overwhelmed by something larger than itself.

When I fall into this pit, I become THE SPIRIT THIEF who steals the whole spirit of my dreams, my hopes. I am left with nothing.

The Spirit Thief


MEDIUM: acrylic and graphite on laminated rice paper

Available for sale at

This is a medium-sized painting. A central figure takes up most of the painting surface and is contained within a purple rectangle that sits in a background of transparent yellow. A small amount of orange outlines the rectangle and includes the two peaks at the top of the rectangle.

The central figure is well defined, while the face is mask-like. The eyes are darkened slits. The lips twist to the left. The top of the head has two small, darkened purple protrusions. This could be a hat on the figure’s head or it could be horns.

There is a broad swathe of transparent yellow glaze that forms the figure’s shoulder, defining the portrait as a profile view. The figure turns its head to face the viewer with closed eyes and twisted lips.

Its gaze, with lowered eyelids, refuses to look at me, to acknowledge me.  Its lips express a sneer.

I hear my mother’s voice: ‘You’re no different from the others’.

I rebel at my mother’s words. I want to shout at her in an angry voice, ‘YOU’RE WRONG! I AM DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHERS. I’LL PROVE YOU WRONG’. This is a non-verbal agreement I make with myself. I become an angry and defiant child.

I go to the extreme. ‘I AM DIFFERENT. I AM ME’.

I inflate myself to become bigger and better.

I will hold my position at all costs.

Over the years this attitude has cost me dearly. I lost my spirit of ‘being’ and became the negative energy that would prove her wrong.

As I Think So I Become - Marie Laywine - Contemporary Fine Art

TITLE: As I think, so I Become

MEDIUM: acrylic and graphite on laminated rice paper

Available for sale at

‘AS I THINK, SO I BECOME’ is a work I painted in Great Britain shortly after I arrived here from the Himalayas.

A central figure takes up most of the painting surface. The figure is well defined in a stylistic way. The right side of the face is broken into by the background markings.

The eyes appear darkened. The right eye is well defined in the dark space. The left eye appears half open. High up on the forehead is a hole filled in with a transparent yellow glaze. Out of the figure’s head emerges a smaller figure. This figure has slits for eyes and no mouth.

To the left of the painting is a solid mass of bright yellow. Resting on the figure’s shoulder is a square of a darker yellow that pierces the central figure’s cheek and reaches just below the left eye. A small sliver of graphite marks from the background pierces the darker yellow square.

The small figure inside the head of the larger figure represents the spirit of my ‘being’ that’s been displaced by the negative energy and is contained in the other’s head space to express ‘AS I THINK, SO I BECOME’.  I became the rebellious child.

As I was exploring my idea of being ‘CAUGHT IN A BLOCK OF TIME’, several new ideas seemed to surface for me.

We all have attachment to a mother figure. This attachment comes with an agenda: that of the mother’s experiences with her attachment. If we keep to the agenda of the attachment figure, then in doing so we get ‘caught in a block of time’ and perpetuate the cycle for another generation.

This is usually transmitted to our children in a non-verbal way as it was passed on to me. My mother did this through a lack of awareness.

‘Caught in a block of time’, is about being arrested in the emotion attached to a moment in time. It usually comes about through an external event that becomes an interior experience. When unexpressed, the evoked feelings turn inward and this becomes a default position, which I’d compare with a fly caught in a spider’s web – the ultimate imbalance of power, with one side totally disempowering the other.

I can only change what my mother modelled for me by understanding its dynamics. This can only happen through awareness. I plan to change my default position through awareness.

I’m grateful to Miss Molly for bringing to my attention this unpleasant aspect of my personality. I’d like to reassure my readers that she is adjusting well to her new environment.

I’ve chosen four of my works to help me with this exploration.

Two are titled ‘CAUGHT IN A BLOCK OF TIME, NOs I & II.

The other two are titled ‘THE SPIRIT THIEF’ and ‘AS I THINK, SO I BECOME’.

Marie Laywine

January 29, 2017