Hannah Hutchings-Georgiou

In the Pink with Nancy Cadogan


The camellia remained uncrumpled the long journey home.

Every evening, the pavement had been awash with pink: thick heavy petals, flowers plush and open, hopeful for the taking. I had noted them before: puckered faces, turned up to the sun, gently lilting in the breeze when the same sun started to set. Flush and full on a leafy branch unbent. They would fall loosely at first, settling on the grass with little complaint or distress. Then, as the light diminished and the temperature cooled, the camellias would languish in their own heady scent, gracefully descend and pirouette onto the pavement; a pink thing, a slight thing, a soft thing, now down and out on the hard cold concrete of life.

Only the residents of the flats could pick up the fallen heads of the flowers. They were beyond my reach, behind bars, behind private leases and rights. But those that had blown onto the pavement, loosely, fortuitously, carefully even, were free for anyone’s choosing.

I would stoop down, unaware of couples passing me by, and cup a bright pink camellia, mindful not to mar its petals with the heat of my hand.

On my kitchen table the camellia floated, brighter, softer, fuller than it had before. Sitting down to write, its petals unfurled, its secrets stirred, a pink glow encircled us both. Bathed in pink and alight, my writing took on a new hue, the gift and lust and promise of a sweet smelling camellia.

Looking through my kitchen window, a stranger would have seen me flowering there, blooming into shape, blossoming into colour, a burst of sherbet light, the fizz of becoming, though my small body sat still and silent the whole time.


Where The Wild Things Grow II (2021), oil on canvas, 100 x 80 cm. Courtesy of Gillian Jason Gallery

Nancy Cadogan’s latest suite of paintings embodies this sure and silent bloom of becoming. In the cool and calming space of the Gillian Jason Gallery, away from the stress and strife of Oxford Street, Cadogan’s work is a leaf-strewn oasis; a subtle, unfurling reminder of why galleries exist. Titled The Still Point, after a line from the first poem in T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (1943), the exhibition brings together several paintings where women simply sit, book and pen and glass of wine to hand, at a table. Put like this, the subject sounds commonplace, the work uninviting, yet it is anything but. Sat around oval tables – of rose and carnation pink, a subdued and subduing sky blue, vivid cerulean – these women move in their own stillness, in the ever-enveloping fullness of their own solitude, in the vivacity and veracity of their own thought. Seated and composed, they hum with energy, reflect life and light in their state of reflection.

Framed in an open-ended moment of reflecting, contemplating, meditating and, at times, writing, Cadogan’s women become the still point of Eliot’s verse. They incarnate and issue an instant that’s ‘Neither from nor towards’, ‘where past and future’ gather. They rest in their revolutions of reminiscing; dreams and deliberations in flight, they are safe, contained and satisfyingly concerned in the bodily stillness of their selves. Women who come and go in the gallery are sated by this; I was and am sated – and emotionally sedated – by encountering this painted state. It is one I have come to love and nourish so well in the still and solitary times of my own life.

That Cadogan captures what it is to be absorbed – whether in thought, the self, another who is out of sight and reach, or a book – may not be miraculous. That she captures what it is for a woman to be absorbed, thereby capturing our attention so well, is. Looking at these works of absorption, I, myself, am absorbed, engrossed, consumed, taken in. There is a reciprocity of contemplation at play; an exchange in the passivity, that is the activity, of being consumed with a work of art about a certain kind of consumption itself. Here, in this point of still and stilling absorption, I am lavishly fed by Cadogan’s works. I do not feed off the women themselves – how many bodies do we have to consume to confirm such womanhood? No, I feed off the recognition, the realisation, the reliving, the repetition of this absorbed and absorbing state. To be entirely consumed in yourself, in your own energy, your own capacity and embodied interiority as a woman, unencumbered by the world’s fixating and consuming gaze, the glare of another’s, a man’s, consciousness of what it is to be said woman: well, that is a rare opulent serving I’m willing to eat from and swallow whole. That is an absolute absorption I want to absorb entire.

With Freedom, Flowers, Books, and the Moon, Who could Not Be Happy? (2021), oil on canvas, 80 x 60 cm. Courtesy of the Gillian Jason Gallery.

Like a conspiring chorus, all of Cadogan’s female subjects have their eyes closed. Minds wide open, eyes wide shut, they are thinking on things, considering what it is to think and rethink and reconsider the consideration of self, itself. The titles of the paintings hint at the thought experiments and experiential thought the women may – or may not – convey: ‘Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Taken’, ‘With Freedom, Flowers, Books and the Moon, Who Could Not Be Happy?’, ‘Under the Crescent Moon’, ‘Where the Wild Things Grow II’. The titles are loose and gay and casual, referencing books and writers and the kind of lines you would expect on a greeting card or affirmation meme. These titles do not take up much space, but the women do. They go deeper, inflecting the titles with an array of feelings, they may or may not feel. All of these women refuse to comply or reply in the titular affirmative: their minds are wide open, but their eyes wide shut. Not even a flutter of a lash to admit or consider you.


Turned into themselves, the surrounding scenes of the paintings (psycho)dynamically unfold. It is here that the titles, the signs of the mind’s eye, are confirmed and configured. In almost every portrait flowers flourish, a vase is cordially, concordably placed, a Kentia palm flows exultingly upwards: nature’s greenest is the glowing health of the head, but what of the pinks? What of the fuchsia flowers sprouting like wild stars, splayed gleefully, appealing, in ‘Be Yourself’? What of the salmon petals curling silently in the wake of rebel thoughts and rampant recollections in ‘Where the Wild Things Grow II’? The pink is what draws me, implores me into a deeper sense of looking and being. The pink is what calls the eye, winking wickedly in these reverent and revered reveries that may be filled with ever-deepening De Chirico blues, Matisse oranges and Vermeer yellows. But in the here and there, in the ‘sill point of the turning world’, there is pink; queer, voluptuous, blushingly unapologetic, pink – and I am in it. We are in it. Alive and well and flushed with excellence. We are in the pink, with Nancy Cadogan.


Air seeps in through the gap in the window. A quiet drifts over and under and into all objects in the room. I am sitting, watching the night revealing, images flickering across the ceiling. I am sitting at a table, eyes bathing, seeming, seeing, the crushed petals of the camellia peeling from broken stem, onto unbroken cloth.

Pen marks cut the clear stark paper, dash invisible lines and line invisible thoughts. I am thinking of swaying heady camellias, of thick words and thick thoughts drifting petal-like, into my hand. Hot palms and sweet breath emit from petal-thoughts and petal-words, until the cooling quiet of night relieves all. I am thinking, behind the closed lids of my wide eyes, that calming ecstasy and exquisite frequencies exist beyond the petals, beyond the flower, beyond the room and sill of the window.

Swaying, all is swaying, as I, flushed, camellia-like, take pen to paper to write.

Dashes in invisible lines, lining invisible thoughts, floating feelings, flickering in phantom pinks, across the visible ceiling. I am alone in the sticky, thick, felt thought. I am alone in the pinks and dashes and lines; and I am not alone in it all. Here and there, another flower buds, another notion blossoms, sinking down, rising up, proliferating outwards on the page.


Which painting absorbs me so much, while I sit in my room, nurturing pink thoughts on a pink day? It is Cadogan’s ‘The Still Point of the Turning World’ (2022), a work of total fullness and fulfilment – a work that fulfils the eye of the mind and the body entire. And it is a painting dreamed up in pinks: varying fuchsias, carnations, rose baby skin loveliness, the ballerina’s suppleness stretched out in one pure rectangular platform: the table, the strip of a cuff, the staple surface of a bar. Like Eliot’s poem suggests, there is dance and stillness at once; music and silence in motion, sensed and sensitive, composed in

Installation view of The Still Point of the Turning World, with artist Nancy Cadogan, Gillian Jason Gallery, London. Courtesy of Gillian Jason Gallery.

canvas and oil. The turning that occurs is of page and mind and hand simultaneous, as Cadogan’s woman writes. Her script fills up a thick book, full of thick, voluptuous thoughts, as fertile and freeing as the free-flowing fronds of a Kentia Palm. But the pinks enliven and envelope all; the pinks bashfully boast the woman’s wellness, the swell of ideas, the contentment and containment that is, for once, all her own.

That the dominating colour of this scene – and mood – is pink does not diminish the process of contemplation. Cadogan sets both figure and viewer up so that this now most queer of colours is part of the growth, part of the paradoxical stillness in turning, part of the continual growing cogitations of hand, eye and pen – part of the whole ‘point’. There is no flimsy in the whimsy of her use of pink; quite the opposite in fact. The quiet provocation of the shade; its controversial history, alignment with marginalised communities, original association with the masculine, with class, with power, with the pleasure of luxury and luxuriating, simmers beneath the creaseless tableau of her tables and cloths. It is all and none of that at once, Eliot-style: it is also just a satisfying colour – a poke at political mores, the theorems and traditions of painting. And yet, and yet…it is the feminine gaze and touch and tease and tremor and gloat and gush of a moment; it is the female in the male, the indication and gratification that the passing minute is imbued and imbues us with so much more. That the sublime solitude occupied, enjoyed, by her women need not be blue, solemn, cold, nor removed from a bodily understanding of what it means to be alive – a knowledge of living so often associated with the presence or (equally passing) present desire of another. No, to be in the pink, is to be all manner of wonderful, wondrous, wanton feelings and thoughts; it is to be fully held by yourself, wholly absorbed in the solitary act of holding one’s thoughts, like a camellia in the palm of your hot sweaty hand, heat unto heat, proudly present in the moment and absent to the wanting gaze of all others.


There is, however, a small fissure in the pink glaze of contentment that is Cadogan’s painting. Hanging above the woman, whose concentration remains undented, is a reproduction of Édouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882). The original consists of bluish greys and damask tints and surreptitious smoky creams. There is black velvet next to rose-tinted skin, a flower pinned to the laced bosom of the female bartender; and there is glass, marble, shimmering chandeliers, gold-topped champagne, absinthe greens and rosé showing alongside her. This is the jaded panache of modernism, where it is uncertain who is tending who. Our barmaid, Suzon, awaits your order, and much like the stock she’s selling, she’s legible in surface appearance only. Flushed with the loud heat of the bar, the glare of the gaze, the uncaring stare of demanding customers, Suzon looks out, there but not there, ready but quietly unsteady in the circus-like chaos of the Folies-Bergère. How do we know she’s unsteady or, at least, uneasy in this setting? The grease-like smear of reflected faces and lights in the mirror behind. The aerialist’s legs dangling from the top-corner left. The male figure too up close and personal in the top right side of the frame. The strain in her wrists as she leans against the ledge of the bar. In this queasy panorama, Manet’s reflected world is anything but an exact representation: it could be the revolving of the barmaid’s day, a rehearsal of what’s to come, the refraction and refracting effects of a fear that is part of the performance of her role. Manet’s original is tilted, ever tilting; not so much the ‘still point of the world’, but its disorienting, disingenuous, dizzying turning. Like Cadogan’s woman, Manet’s Suzon is reflected in the distorted and distorting mirror of the bar, but she is not at ease; she is not content; she is not necessarily there for her own easy contentment.

Cadogan’s simplified cartoon of Manet’s famous work re-sets Suzon. In her version, she is subliminal mistress of the bar, hands surfing a stream of pink, dreaming beyond the window of her own frame and framing. This mis-en-abyme effect, a picture within a picture within a picture (and a look within a look within a look), continues the plenitude of Cadogan’s work – a plenitude her women inspire and inhabit, and yes, inspire us to inhabit. And yet, emerging from the dark forest-green depths of the wall, mired in the mirror surface of Cadogan’s composed world, this duplicated Suzon, a sublimated nod to Manet, reminds us that the pleasure of women is often capped or spiked: their usual movement through the world is often unsteady, unsure, a taut tight-rope of fear or aerial abstention; their train of reflection often caught on the reflected threat of others; their self-contained contentment often ruined by the uncontained and unrestrained consciousness of men, always ready, top-hat in hand, to infringe on our own. Though Cadogan’s paintings are filtered and focalised through the female gaze, here, in ‘The Still Point of the Turning World’ is a hint of the male; a play with mirrors repeating back to us the unsteadying force of someone else’s vision on those encompassing, conscious-expansive, moments.

Two different paintings about the art and practise of looking; two different outlooks on the potentiality of gazing, longingly, out, and contentedly, introspectively, in.


I am thinking about thinking in the half-light of day. I am thinking while the camellia’s pinks turn in and out, turn out and in, a rarefied brown. A good pink, a roasted pink, an oven-tested, pink, that has enjoyed its time in the sun, I think, glancing at the aging flower in its bowl. Eliot’s poem from Four Quartets pre-empted neither this space nor time: there is no room with a clock in the ‘still point’ of his turning world. No hands and no numbers, but the turning tide and mark of nature and nature’s turn to eternity.

Virginia Woolf though, well, she dreamt of furrowed times like crumpled petals, heedless and mindless of where they fall, beneath windows, over pavements, railings and walls. Woolf dreamt of folded times, like frilled carnations, fans of colour, fans of line, over and under, and into and round, the bud of self. Time pressed like flowers in the pages of her books. Time like the opening and closing lips of a flower (crocus of fire; geranium of life). Time in light-filled rooms, homing many thoughts and many words, folding over and under, and into and round, the blossoming bud of self. Like a camellia floating in a bowl of water, glistening in its moment, its final, petalled birth.

Incandescent is the thought that slumbers, wakes, breaks, drifts over and under, into and round, the turning of this hour.


Manet’s painting also hangs in the background of another work of art: Chloë Ashby’s dazzling debut novel, Wet Paint. Unlike Cadogan’s women, Ashby’s Eve struggles to find her still point – except when sat in front of Manet’s painting, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. Leered at, harassed, assaulted and objectified, Eve’s sense of stillness, that pink equilibrium so solidly retained by Cadogan’s figures, is continually upset and overturned. Tilted to the point of spilling over, Eve clings to her rendezvous with Suzon, her time revisiting, over and under, the combined details of Manet’s work. Safe,

Installation view of The Still Point of the Turning World, Gillian Jason Gallery, London. Courtesy of Gillian Jason Gallery.

still and instilled with a sense of familiarity, Eve’s conversation with the work repeats familiar thoughts: Suzon’s ‘deeply distracting’ and ‘ghostly expression’, the ‘fleshy smudge of paint’ that makes up the surrounding crowd, the stance of the barmaid as if she’s ‘poised on the edge of a platform’. There is identification here, for Eve; some may say an over-identification with Suzon, but an important over-emphasis we should note, even encourage, nonetheless. Stuck – not still, because stuckness and stillness have never been the same thing – in the grief and loss of loved ones, and subjected to the twists of male violence, Eve needs art to survive like I, we, Suzon, need bread – and flowers. Forever painting images in her mind to make sense of and survive the violent turns of the world, Eve, in turn, looks to Manet’s Suzon, to this murky motioning image, paradoxically to slow down the ‘sea of indiscriminate faces’ that ‘wash past…with every chock-a-block tube or high-speed train’; to find clarity amongst the ‘fleshy smudge’ that is own life. Suzon, though attempting stability in an unstable world herself, becomes that still point for Eve, the clear mirror in which to trace her own face.


And discovering your own face – your own pleasure or woe, equanimity or anxiety – in a work of art is important. Cadogan shows us the way, the sense, the source – simple pleasures, inner pleasure – of women’s self-composure and ease. But she also quietly incorporates the unsteady face, the tired face, the tautly pained and painted face of women in her work. The hint is not just that the one state, face, standing in life may be tethered to the other, but that despite the woe, anxiety, and turns of violence in the world, women can still be still in it; they can still find that font of flowing, flowering pleasure; they can still and always will blossom-outwards and become.


I picture this: Eve sitting in front of Cadogan’s work, Suzon too, Manet somewhere off in the background, hopefully without a top hat. They are holding camellias, holding a book, holding their unmoored thoughts like ready-to-drop anchors amongst a choppy sea. Cast them off, let them sink, let the bubbles return light. They are thinking and dreaming, their cheeks flustered and reasoning, pink in the knowledge that, though sometimes, oftentimes, they are ill-at-ease, the still point of the world lies before them; a stillness in and away from the world is achieved. In the pink portraits of women’s art, in the thick pink paint of our desires, a becoming has fallen, a becoming will come; a becoming, a beckoning, so fragrant, so blooming, is here.

Nancy Cadogan’s The Still Point was shown at the Gillian Jason Gallery. Chloë Ashby’s Wet Paint is published by Trapeze and is available to purchase online and in all good bookshops now.  Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère can be seen at the Courtauld Institute now.


Hannah Hutchings-Georgiou is a writer and the founding editor-in-chief of Lucy Writers. She completed her BA in English Literature at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, and has an MA in Eighteenth-Century Studies from King’s College, London, and holds a foundation diploma in fine art from Camberwell College of Arts. She is currently studying for a PhD in English Literature at UCL and teaches undergraduate students in the department. Hannah regularly writes for online magazines such as The London Magazine, The Arts Desk, The White Review, Club des Femmes and others. She is currently working on a creative non-fiction book on women artists and drawing. Follow her on Twitter @hhgsparkles and Instagram @hannahhg25

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