My work as a painter is a long-term exploration of the possibilities for creating illusory spaces in, on, and through canvas. Despite the formal nature of this concern, I am not interested in making paintings that are primarily about painting. Rather, the use of illusion in my work – illusion being present to some degree in any representational painting – acts as a point of entry to a more complex discussion of illusion across our lives, be it of the visual sort or something that is psychological, spiritual or political.

The series of work I made between 2008-2012, The General Order of Anxiety, engaged a particular psychological space – that of anxiety. During a panic attack, a person’s fight or flight response is (falsely) triggered. It is a very odd, uncomfortable thing to feel threatened and not be able to explain why. As I learned more about anxiety and became aware that that feeling was essentially an animal response crashing in, unbidden, on my attempts to be a reasonably well put-together, competent human being going about her business, I felt like I was living at the mercy of a bad joke, if one that was admittedly kind of funny.

In contrast to exploring the experience of humans trying to live with the sudden onset of strong animal instincts, Songs of Dumb Beasts, three paintings made between 2012 and 2013, imagined animals who felt the urge to live a life more ‘human’ – these animals are embarking on a gentrification of the species, if you will: a stag forces its way into a stately home late at night to share one last kiss with its lover, whose head has become a trophy on the wall; a fox attempts to have its very own picnic; and a capercaillie, a traditional game bird in Scotland, surveys side plates of songbirds in the dining hall of Christchurch College, Oxford.

For so many of us who love animals, the urge to anthropomorphize is strong, if not supported by science. What is the ‘knowing’ that we attribute to ourselves and withhold from the animal kingdom? And if we can suddenly find ourselves acting as one who does not know better – responding like an animal and losing control, were we only ever fooling ourselves?

The body of work I am currently developing explores the role of illusion both in creating and potentially in helping us to understand the crises currently facing Europe. Pride in one’s culture becomes a double-edged sword with nationalism and xenophobia on one side, and respect for tradition and protection of difference on the other.

In the past we used myth to help us make sense of natural phenomena or events too immense to grasp. Climate change, the Syrian refugee crisis, a rolling wave of economic crises that has left whole populations destitute – how are we to grapple with these issues, let alone fix them? This is not to let us off the hook, but rather to face the fact that the very enormity and urgency of these issues causes many people to tune them out. We reach a point of cognitive overload and turn away, as if out of self-preservation, asserting a little control where we can get it.

With these unsophisticated, mean responses forming the baseline of so much foreign policy now, perhaps there could be some redemption in another kind of illusion? Perhaps we need new myths to process what is happening in the world, facilitating an emotional detachment that can help us understand what is really going on, without having our own responses hijacked by fear and self-interest. Perhaps this is one way to awaken our better selves.