Seeing behind the surface.

In an age of mass communication where it seems that everyone is plugged into something…..are we seeing more or just skimming across the surface of life?

I took this photograph next to Trafalgar Square, London during one of the many Olympic events and celebrations.



As an artist and portrait painter, I have had the privilege to look into the eyes of many people.

Twenty years ago, when I returned home to the UK/Europe after spending 28 years in the States, I had an exhibition in Brittany, France.     The exhibition was made up of portraits from Wales, America and France, and although I had painted spontaneous watercolour portraits before, (mostly as sketches for large oils)…it wasn’t until this point that I realised it was a way for me to really understand and see people…beyond the surface.

Christopher Seagrave-Daley visited me in Wales, and agreed to model for a workshop I was giving.




More recently I attended a three day seminar in London.   On the final day, all 150 of the participants were asked to sit in rows….Over the course of one hour and twenty minutes, each row would walk to the front of the room and scan the faces of the group.    Then another row was asked to make a line in front of those already standing….and as the leader said…get closer to the person in front of you than you would normally feel comfortable, and then simply look into their eyes.

Initially, there were those who were clearly very uncomfortable with this….and others who were moved to tears….and there were others who got the giggles…..(part of being uncomfortable) – however, as the time evolved….a stillness came over the room and it became clear that this was a new and profound experience for everyone involved. 

Woman in Akyaka, Turkey.    During the hour that we spent together, not a word was spoken.   It was not necessary, because we spoke through our eyes.    We both saw beneath the surface of one another, and in doing so had a much deeper understanding.



I stopped driving 20 years ago when I returned to the UK.    Since then I have designed my life in such a way that I don’t need a car.

This has given me a greater freedom to observe others…especially as I take public transportation all over London and many other places.      I will often wear dark glasses so that I can observe without making others uncomfortable.

Jean Paul, Paris – Gardener, artist and gentle soul



What becomes clear the more we take the time to see beyond the surface,  is that we are all part of the same humanity and that we are all interconnected.

Young girl at Mission Hill School, Boston



We all have the same hopes and dreams…..It is only when we stop really seeing one another that we forget this.

Claudia Nottale, when she visited me in Wales




I decided sometime ago that I didn’t want to just skim across the surface of life.    I made the decision to keep looking and learning.

Jean Marie – Le Pecq, France.    A wonderful artist – one who always sees beyond the surface. 


A Bientôt

10 thoughts on “Seeing behind the surface.

  1. Tish Farrell

    What a very fascinating paradox, that your wonderful, shimmering, barely-there portraits should take the viewer straight beneath the surface to the ‘heart’ of your subjects. The young girl from Boston has such an arresting gaze. You have captured something very deep and elemental here.

  2. KatherineJ

    A truly fascinating post especially about looking into people’s eyes very cloe up.I may imitate you and wear dark glasses to observe people more closely…. as otherwise it can get embarrassing.i was watching some workmen and one came over and said,Awright! in a way mixing mild anger and friendliness.I n such cases I give them a big smile and walk away.
    The portraits are loose and free yet so accurate in conveying the person’s facial expression and more,their personality…I really enjoyed this post.Thank you,Janet,:)xx

    1. janetweightreed10 Post author

      Thank you so much, Katherine. The exercise at the seminar was so powerful. Given my experience of looking people in the eye as I paint them, I didn’t expect to experience what I did. It made me realise that for the most part we see one another as a mass…..and it’s only when we see one another as individuals, who are part of the mass, that we really see. .xx

  3. snowbird

    What an interesting post Janet, I think people forget that we are the same species and in a busy world few words or looks are exchanges on trains, tubes and buses, and yet you have only to walk a dog and people will stop and chat, and this is true of walkers and boaters too, the smaller the community the more humanity I find. Interesting experiment, I had to do that when training to be a social worker and after the initial embarrassment it is a very revealing interchange. I loved the portraits

    1. janetweightreed10 Post author

      Thank you, Dina, and yes I do agree that people communicate at a much more personal level in smaller communities. The exercise at the seminar really had a profound effect on me and clearly all the other participants. I think for many, it was the first time to be scrutinised in such a way and to really see others on a completely different level. Have a fantastic weekend with all the furies:)xxx

  4. Bonnie Halsey-Dutton

    So insightful… the idea of truly seeing. Looking at people consciously and seeing what that uncovers. I love the exercise you describe of moving closer than usually comfortable, and looking into someone’s eyes. Very powerful, indeed. Thank you, Janet!


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