Saint Edmund at the Poor House

by JW Summerisle


I found out recently that a road I walk down every day is where my town’s workhouse used to be, and thinking about my own poverty, my estrangement from both parents, and a trip I once took to the Foundling Museum in London (where I spent most of the visit lying on an little orphan’s bed in a cold room) I started to paint a portrait that is myself and not myself. I’m really interested in the weight of stories & warmth of colour. The figure rests on a pillow that is inverted, so it’s still a pillow, but it’s also a weight or a tombstone, something wedging the blood-tinted & hollowed face into the spiked, furred, ambiguous, abstract shapes of darkness & absence creeping in at the undefined edges of the body. The “Saint Edmund” of the title is a dark ages saint, about whom not much is known, beyond his (ineffectual, poor) kingship ended by Viking conquest. His rule was unmourned and unmissed until, at a later date, a monk on another continent spun a myth about Saint Edmund’s severed head being hidden & discovered under the auspices of a wolf. I can’t explain too well how much the odd story of this saint means to me, in terms of myth making, rebirth, transformation, delusion, fantasy and altered fact. In short, the painting is of my own head as that of Saint Edmund wreathed around in his bloodied cloak (or in a pool of rivulets and runs of blood), lying alone in the dark in the oppressive weight & ward of a workhouse bedroom.