Lesley Halliwell

Manchester School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University

The Depth of Surface

 Lesley Halliwell,  Portal,  biro,pencil and silver leaf on paper, (2000 and 2016) 

Lesley Halliwell, Portal, biro,pencil and silver leaf on paper, (2000 and 2016) 

This paper explores the notion of ‘entry’ and ‘reflection’ as key aspects of cultural and visual interaction with the surface of the pictorial plane. Viewing surface as something that has depth, the focus here will be on the sub surface and supra surface in order to reveal this depth and complexity, and to question where the surface of the pictorial plane resides.

What you have with a representational image is an illusion that leads the eye to ignore the surface; the literal meaning of perspective is ‘to see through’. By contrast, pattern focuses the eye on the surface, but the flattening is such that it hinders entry. Eroding, cutting into and peeling away, actions that break into the surface, have continually occupied my artistic practice. Such actions that eat away the surface of the picture plane are devices to let the viewer in. They create an ‘entry point’, not only allowing the gaze to literally penetrate but the mind to understand the geography of the surface in a new way.

I will trace ways in which entry, as a conceptual and an actualised activity, has played out across my recent artworks. Pattern, as a means of coalescing the surface is a foundational pursuit. Layering, sequence and erasure have been explored as ways of problematising depth within the patterned surface whilst process driven inconsistencies, such as a momentary loss of hand control, or natural degradation of materials, disrupt the surface. But these interruptions, described by cultural theorist Paul Virilio as a break that inserts uncertainty into a constructed system, operate on the intra level, on or across the surface. By contrast, the worn away surface provides an ‘entry point’ to the sub-surface.

The accidents that allow entry can be contrasted with qualities that mask the penetrability of surface. Through shine and reflectivity, qualities that confound the surface, my work has also explored the place where surface and image reside. Richard Wollheim’s notion of ‘twofoldness’ is useful here to help understand that ‘...strange duality – of seeing the marked surface, and of seeing something in [and on] the surface...’ (Gaiger, 2007: 53). These works seem to operate in the realm of the supra surface, repositioning the viewer somewhere ‘above.’  This is where the entry point becomes most valuable, allowing the viewer to glimpse the full depth of surface.


Lesley Halliwell is an artist currently undertaking a practice-based PhD (NWCDTP Award holder 2014–2020) at Manchester School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University. She did her first degree at Dartington College of Arts and Nottingham Trent University. She has since gone on to study Art History at Goldsmith’s College, University of London (MA 1995), and Fine Art at Manchester School of Art (MA 2001). Lesley’s current research is about the depth of surface. And it is through her practice based enquiry that she aims to more fully understand the interplay between the outward-facing and the inward supporting components of the picture plane. She has exhibited her work widely across the UK and beyond including Bloomberg’s New Contemporaries, The Jerwood Drawing Prize, Superabundant at Turner Contemporary, Margate, Pattern Recognition at Leicester City Art Gallery, The Drawing Show, Castlefield Gallery, Manchester and Beauty is the First Test at Pumphouse Gallery, London. Lesley is currently Director of Suite Studio Group, Salford and a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Chester.