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In Trish Morrissey’s series ‘The Failed Realist’:

the proposed object of enquiry is (once again) situated within family life but what is met through these photographs of face-paintings is not entirely straightforward (Hanrahan, 2012).

The series’ title ‘The Failed Realist’ is a term in psychology which describes a time when a:

child’s desire to represent his or her world is hampered by motor, cognitive and graphic obstacles that will be overcome with time, but for the moment, their interpretation is flawed.  These drawings are uncorrupted by representational conventions (Morrissey, s.d b).

Morrissey writes, referring to her daughter between the ages of four and five:

Face painting is a rainy day activity that we both enjoy. Once her motor skills evolved sufficiently well for her to control a paintbrush, she wanted to paint me rather than be painted. Instead of the usual motifs of butterfly, or flower, she would decide to paint something from her immediate experience – a movie she had just watched, a social event, rite of passage, or a vivid dream (Hanrahan, 2012).

The painted faces recorded in the series of photographs are of Morrissey’s face painted by her daughter (see figs. 8 – 11.). Thus it seems that the self-portraitist’s role is predominantly passive – if the viewer has any questions it is about the particular child who did the painting, and children in general of that age who are in the phase of development described as The Failed Realist. Yet there is more here as the critic Siun Hanrahan points out:

We are … returned to the figure of ‘the clown’, serving not only to amuse but also as critic, the teller of truths that are difficult to acknowledge. The artist confronts us as clown but, denuded as she is, the object of critique is withheld (Hanrahan, 2012).

‘The Failed Realist’ places under examination (among other things) the family, parenthood (in particular with being a mother), and representation of the self to others. But as stated at the outset, ‘what is met through these photographs of face-paintings is not entirely straightforward’ (above). Hanrahan concludes her critique, ‘Morrissey’s object of enquiry is wilfully elusive’ (Hanrahan, 2012).


Bright, Susan (2010) Autofocus. The self-portrait in contemporary photography. London: Thames & Hudson.

Hanrahan, Siun (2012) ‘Trish Morrissey. The Failed Realist’ In: Source 71 pp. 35

Morrissey, Trish (s.d) Front [online] At: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-front/workpg-01.html (Accessed on: 21.01.15)

Morrissey, Trish (s.d a) Seven Years [online] At: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-sy/statement.html (Accessed on: 21.01.15)

Morrissey, Trish (s.d b) The Failed Realist [online] At: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/works_pages/work-tfr/statement.html (Accessed on: 23.01.15)

O’Hagan, Sean (2013) The 10 best … photographic self-portraits [online] At: http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2013/mar/23/10-best-photographic-self-portraits  (Accessed on: 21.01.15)

List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Morrissey, Trish (2006) Hayley Coles, June 17th, 2006 At: http://i.guim.co.uk/static/w-620/h–/q-95/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pixies/2013/3/22/1363957873974/10-best—Trish-Morrissey-001.jpg (Accessed on: 21.01.15)

Figure 2. Morrissey, Trish (2005) Sylvia Westbrook, August 2nd, 2005 [c-type print] At: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/media/images/front-w/Sylvia-Westbrook.jpg (Accessed on: 21.01.15)

Figure 3. Morrissey, Trish (2005) Chloe Gwynne, May 30th, 2005 [c-type print] At: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/media/images/front-w/Chloe-Gwynne.jpg (Accessed on: 21.01.15)

Figure 4. Morrissey, Trish (2005) Deborah Bestwick, August 14, 2005 [c-type print] At: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/media/images/front-w/Deborah-Bastwick.jpg (Accessed on: 21.01.15)

Figure 5. Morrissey, Trish (2005) April 16th, 1984 [c-type print] At: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/media/images/seven-years-w/April-16th-1984.jpg (Accessed on: 21.01.15)

Figure 6. Morrissey, Trish (2005) August 8th, 1982  [c-type print] At: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/media/images/seven-years-w/August-8th-1982.jpg (Accessed on: 21.01.15)

Figure 7. Morrissey, Trish (2005) July 22nd 1972 [c-type print] At: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/media/images/seven-years-w/July-22nd-1972.jpg (Accessed on: 21.01.15)

Figure 8. Morrissey, Trish (2011) Bitzer [c-type print] At: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/media/images/the-failed-realist-w/Bitzer.jpg (Accessed on: 23.01.15)

Figure 9. Morrissey, Trish (2011) Totoro [c-type print] At: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/media/images/the-failed-realist-w/Totoro.jpg (Accessed on: 23.01.15)

Figure 10. Morrissey, Trish (2011) Ladybird [c-type print] At: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/media/images/the-failed-realist-w/Ladybird.jpg (Accessed on: 23.01.15)

Figure 11. Morrissey, Trish (2011) A Wild Cat Chasing a London Bird [c-type print] At: http://www.trishmorrissey.com/media/images/the-failed-realist-w/Wild-Dog.jpg (Accessed on: 23.01.15)