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'Transforming Surfaces' (i) - (iv)

  by Della Gooden




(i)       trænz ’fɔ:mɪŋ  /  ’sɜ:fəsəz             

          (language, shape & shift)

(ii)      surface-things                            

          (surfaces, things & surface-things)

(iii)     transforming                                

          (the real, and uncanny perceptions)

(iv)     face-to-face                                  

          (A painting shouted out)


trænz ’fɔ:mɪŋ  /  ’sɜ:fəsəz

transforming surfaces…. 

present participle + noun (pl.)

gerund + verb (present simple, 3rd person)


1.       Outside parts or uppermost layers change (reflexive meaning)

2.       Changes that occur to an outside part or an uppermost layer become apparent 

MY WORD2_just table.jpg



It could be said that surface exists to give favour; that it is only there so that something else can be there too. I can see that my pencil is resting on the surface of my notepad, which is on the surface of the table, which is on the surface of the floor, and so on... Is the surface of each of these things an entirely separate, identifiable component, like something bolted on? Or is surface innate and indistinguishable from the whole?


Either way, ‘surface-things’ (like the notepad and the table) are obliged by mutual arrangement to be both parasite and host and I can’t help wondering where it all ends. Is there an ultimate ‘surface-thing’ holding everything up at the bottom... such as the Earth’s crust? Or is there a toppling, Dr Seuss-like tower of ‘surface-things’ descending on forever through the universe?


These fanciful visions cue the provident realisation that I don’t particularly care what’s holding up the floor. I only care that it is sober with horizontality; that it is solid, flat, dependable and always there. If on waking in the morning there was some doubt about that, it would be a terrifying prospect and I would probably never get out of bed again!


‘Surface’, it seems, is a trusted gatekeeper between an inside and everything else; it protects and contains, separates and provides stability. Architecture and the built environment appropriate these qualities to good purpose and consequently, I have expectations of vertical surfaces too. I expect the walls in my home to give privacy and security by way of their opacity and solidity. They ensure that my neighbours can’t watch me eat my dinner or sit at my table un-invited - the walls go about their business complementarily as I go about mine.


However, to the resourceful mind such vertical surfaces present enigmatic potential. The urge to climb over a wall, peek behind curtains or open closed doors can lead to the disclosure of unpredicted intelligence. An investigative nature (or for that matter a hapless one!) can uncover wondrous things, shocking secrets or an awful truth; discoveries like these can turn the world.


Perception and the imagination attend to the vertical, or visual field, with hope, anticipation and curiosity, and the rewards (or disappointments) can be immense. Consequently, looking down isn’t half so exciting as looking up. Look up at the cinema screen, gaze out of the window. Stare back at the stare. Always watch the sunset and of course, look at Art. Let the world in - that’s when your consciousness can surge or recoil.



Just now I looked up and gazed out of the window to see a pretty picture. The plants in pots, the garden bench and chairs, the dirty cup that’s been there all winter. A beautifully composed bright scene covered in a thick mantle of snow that goes right up to the boundary wall at the end of the garden that hides the church.


If I wait until it gets dark, the window’s surface will transform. The garden, still partly visible in the gloom, will become a rather drab variant. At some point I will switch on the light, and in that instant, a hushed ghost-like interior will appear there too; my furniture and myself included. Two places co-existing. If I were more prone to moments of naïve wonder I might think, ‘What unreal world is this?’ ‘To what special nowhere place have I travelled?’


We share our existence with endless bodies and bearings, shapes, ‘makes’, beings and non-beings. They let us use their surfaces and sometimes we see their inner workings. They reach out, even interfere in our lives. They confront us, snub or help us, they can even mob together. Sometimes they yield up everything they have. It’s an absolute marvel that on arriving home, and once inside the front door, the coat peg offers itself up. There it is, gifted on the wall. Granted, it has modest ambitions for itself, but it is perfectly positioned and patiently waiting. By the time I reach the living room I notice the greatest gift any wall can offer - a good painting. ‘What coat peg?’



How many times have you looked at a painting and it has looked straight back?  In fact, in 1995 I swear that Mondrian’s ‘Composition with Double Line and Yellow’ looked at me first. At the time, I thought that little painting in the Gemeente Museum was one of the best I had ever seen. That’s why I chose it. Picked it out when playing a game of ‘Which one in this room would you steal?’ But the truth is it chose me.


That’s how it went. It was an uncommon exchange and one I’ve never forgotten because that painting smashed through an invisible barrier. It popped the space of conditioned tedium surrounding me and called out across the room:





So, I did.

That encounter continues to have poignancy and as an incident from my past, it’s a little surprising that it matters more now, than it did then. It has become something of a personal parable by which I seek a truth of sorts - albeit one mediated by the vagaries of memory and time passed. It is entirely at the insistence of my present; my need to know now, to feel something spectacular today, that it keeps from waning. In fact, it flourishes each time I replay it. I think I will need this painting for the rest of my life.


I have to wonder, does ‘Composition with Double Line and Yellow’ continue to call out to strangers? I’d like to think so. I believe she’s back in Edinburgh now.

face to face painting shouts.jpg

About the Author:

Della Gooden is an artist, writer and curator. She was the Director and Owner of the project space VINEspace London and Gooden Gallery, London.

Catalogue Essays © Della Gooden, 2018

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