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In the Frame for February 2014: Elise Pacquette’s ‘Eating the Heart Out’

04 February 2015

Bethlem’s new Museum of the Mind will provide extended exhibition space for a number of artworks hitherto consigned to storage. Amongst the hidden gems awaiting display, is Eating the Heart Out by Elise Pacquette (née Warriner). This painting may be variously considered as companion piece and counterpoint to The Anger Within and Protecting the Heart, two works more familiar to Museum visitors. All three of these large (100 x 78 cm) oil and pencil canvases were created in 1993 during Pacquette’s final year at art school, and together permit vivid and unsettling glimpses into her prior eleven-year struggle with anorexia nervosa.  

The paintings convey Pacquette’s intense isolation, alongside the illusory, paradoxical, security of an illness that inhibits – indeed prohibits – the sufferer from accepting the very support that their physical debilitation may command. In the current image, the introspection and obsessions characteristic of anorexia are depicted as cannibalising the heart, thereby symbolising feelings and relationships often sacrificed to the disorder. Behind an unyielding facade of calm and autonomy, internalised rage and recrimination offer a substitute, self-destructive fuel; the body gradually becoming a receptacle for that which cannot be otherwise expressed.

Pacquette has previously reflected on the inner turmoil she experienced at the height of her illness, and how her anger served both as ‘a tool against other people’ and a veil for her ‘fear, frustration and loneliness’.[1]  The artist has since made a full recovery, and her paintings represent a powerful creative legacy and an important emotional conduit in her personal journey back to mental health.      

[1] ROBERT HOWARD, "Psychiatry in Pictures," The British Journal of Psychiatry 180, no. 4 (2002). http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/180/4/0.1.full

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