Deborah Petch Artist

Deborah specializes in drawing, painting printmaking and photography.

Deborah Petch has a first class BA (hons) degree in Fine Art from Brighton University and an Fine Art Masters degree from University of Chichester.


My work is an examination of existential being. I wish to look at the notion of what it is to be human through tracing and observation. In the past I have painted and made drawings of nature. My focus is now on human nature, specifically the portrait, through the process of drawing.

I enjoy rigorous representation and accurate copies of items that signify the dualisms of life and death, microcosm and macrocosm, black and white, being and not being, present and not present, ephemeral and immortal. I am fascinated by the passage of time and enjoy taking time to trace and make a record of a particular moment.

My practice began with drawing and has been informed by phenomenology and the ‘Drawology’ exhibition at Nottingham Trent University. Exhibiting artists included Sian Bowen whose pin hole work corresponded with my own pin drawings and Claude Heath whose blindfold drawings fueled my experimentation. The exhibition was practice based on the theory that ‘drawing is phenomenology’ by Deborah Harty director of Tracey (the online drawing network). This exhibition corresponded with my own work and, in order to inform my own practice, prompted me to research Merleau-Ponty’s ‘Phenomenology of Perception‘ to aid my understanding and transform my way of looking at reality, the self, consciousness, truth and time.

Portraits are a psychological representation of an individual, their aim being to ‘portray’ the character of that particular person. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1891) is an exaggeration of this idea whereby the painting takes on the life and soul of the main character along with his time based aging process. The painting becomes an alter ego.

Lucien Freud’s paintings are time based portraits, where sittings take place over months, his aim is that the paintings take on a life of their own. Freud said “who the sitter is is of no real meaning, what is important is the result of the observation and concentration – the picture.”(Gayford, 2010: p45)

Through research and practice I have realised portraying an individual person via the portrait, is not the purpose of my own enquiry. My practice is an ontological exploration of what it is for each and every one of us in this daily, very ordinary, yet extraordinary concept of existence. My work utilises the human face to explore the idea of what it means to be this complex existential thing called ‘the human being’, in this word, at this moment in time. My aim is to try and understand and make sense of what this experience is.

Veering from drawing, in order to clarify the ideas informing my practice, I experimented with portrait photography utilising both contemporary and old family photographs. I layered these images physically on acetate and digitally through Photoshop. I became engaged with the ideas presented by Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida.(1980) He discusses the ideas of (flat) death and eidolon (Greek word for image, likeness, spectre or ghost) through the spectrum of the photograph where the subject becomes the object.

Images like symbols always mark the absence of the object they refer to. This derives from Lacanian psychoanalysis. The effect that we see an object in an image is found in emotional thought, therefore ambiguity has more room for interpretation. In order to engage with this idea, a scan of my printed face was layered onto photographs, making a more ambiguous representation. These images aimed to convey the contemporary female of the present with a reference to her past that has informed her very being.

I began my drawing practice by observing other people, closely scrutinising the faces of family members to look, and then to see, with the aim to understanding the concept of being. I have reflected on other peoples faces and utilised their features as a mirror to myself. The images I have obtained have been records of these encounters. I am tracing the surface of the face to record that confrontational experience with another human being. This relates my work to Marina Abramovic’s ‘The Artist is Present’ where her performance art confronts us with ourselves in the world. Like myself, Abramovic uses her own body as the basic material of her artwork, demonstrated in her forthcoming show ‘512 hours’ at Serpentine Gallery, London.

I physically applied paint to my own face and body in order to take a mono-prints of myself and engage with process. I scanned the face print (taking it through a digital process) and then transferred onto acetate in order to project and therefore enlarge the scale of the image. I then made a drawing, tracing this image with paint onto gessoed board. The haptic quality of the the smooth gessoed surface of the board reminded me of the softest of skin. While engaged in the process of drawing this piece I noted the following significant words and thoughts: writing, calligraphy, Chinese ink brush drawing, marks, maps, landscape, genetic pairings, chromosomes, bacteria, wind direction arrows on weather maps, memory – geographical childhood drawings and Dad’s Army opening graphics, binary code, universal language, musical notation, morse code, dots, dashes, cloth, threads, lines, universe, cosmos, carbon, dark, light…….

Marsha Meskimmon writes on Emma McNally’s drawings: ‘McNally’s drawings are contingent constellations of dots and lines, foldings and signs that converge and cluster but refuse to delineate boundaries or give directions. They instead remind us of drawing’s exceptional ability to materialise thresholds between disciplinary fields or conceptual territories while engaging with many modes of making at once. Poised, pivotally between systems of signification, the works are both and neither writing and drawing, they extend the interstitial dynamics of their material and manner in and through an interval; they elaborate drawing’s threshold state in and through time.’ ‘….they elaborate the ‘hyper’ of drawing. Arguably, the temporal sequence of drawing is thus not linear but coeval; the old and the new playing together invite us into those precarious, tenuous, threshold states materialised by ‘drawing’ as it goes beyond its own conventions.’ (Meskimmon, 2012: p.xxiii)