During the third Covid-19 lockdown in 2021, I was missing my family and friends intensely. It’s been over a year since I’ve seen my family in person. Friends have been artificially distanced, and we’ve had to find new ways of being together and supporting each other.

Over the last year, I’ve become fascinated with 18th century ‘Lover’s Eye’ tokens – tiny framed keepsakes of a loved one’s eye, carried to keep them close. Taking this a step further into the present, I decided to paint my family and friends’ eyes, to keep them close to me during a time of distance. It’s purely selfish! However, as I started to paint, I began to realise that the very act of painting, and of observing someone that closely, is an act of love and affection in itself, and that it had a deeper resonance. Do we ever really look so intently at each other? Do we notice the subtleties of expression, and the depth of a gaze and the lines and traces of experiences and lives lived? Do we see the tiny nuances that make each eye as individual as a fingerprint?

Why just the one eye? Looking at a single eye, is like looking into a telescope. It blocks out all other detail and distraction. It is focused. The viewer’s eye has nowhere else to go other than to meet the gaze of the subject.

Perhaps it is because I am familiar with the subjects, that I feel such a strong connection when I paint. It is an emotional experience, and one that is reflected back at me when they see their own eye in a painting. They see what I see in them.

The piece is called ‘Eye Contact: Family and Friends’. As I paint, I am posting and sharing on social media.

A selection of framed Eye Contact paintings

A selection of framed Eye Contact paintings (from left to right: Paul, Andrew, Robin, Lynne, Paula, Clare, Tony, Noah, Kate, Rodrigo, Karen, Phil, Estelle, Tom, Reg, Bee, Alfred, Sarah, Trish, Michelle)

The conclusion of the project will be to give each person a print of their eye painting, as a thank you for taking part.