I've always shivered at the sight of the veins beneath the skin of my wrists. The trailing ridges of blue, ink-like blood the only true sign of all that lies beneath. A reminder that my perceived self – everything I think, do, despise and love – are exactly as my veins, skin deep. Not a definition of who I am, rather a trail of clues that seem to haunt the subsoil of my existence as the blood whispers, almost mockingly, 'You are not what you think you are' and 'life is not what you think it is'.

The Pomps of the Subsoil

The Pomps of the Subsoil 1947

Leonora Carrington (1917–2011)

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts

In The Pomps of the Subsoil, Carrington, too, concerns herself with what lies beneath on a scale far beyond the confines of her own skin, extending this thought to the very fabric of our world. Though famously a migrant resident of Mexico City, I find this a conspicuously English landscape from Carrington, an inverted musing on the 'green and pleasant land' to which she was born. This England beneath England, Carrington posits, is the mirage-like, fleeting, stuff of dreams. A world of strange creatures picnicking on saplings, beings made of movement, and mountains of their shadow. A world beneath our surface – the painting itself a fleeting visit into these worlds, these dreams, that our minds inhabit where our bodies cannot.

Like my veins, the subsoil – obscured by Carrington's careful, soft, use of colour – only just shines through, yet the deeply spiritual artist solidifies it, basing her surrealism in an entirely fathomable landscape. Dreams, after all, often find themselves based in reality – within them our own, personal, creatures akin to Carrington's can surface from the depths of our subconscious and find themselves sitting at a McDonald's table or posting a selfie to their Instagram accounts against a premise of endless possibility. Carrington exhumes this – that which we so often attempt to deny – and will not allow it to be buried. In her reflection of England, we see her thread these uncomfortable mysteries – this ugly magic – into the fabric of the land, the fabric of our lives.

Beneath the surface – yet around us, within us and through us – lies a world of curiosity and beauty far beyond our comprehension. Mysteries unable to simply present themselves for human comprehension, whether they be mysteries of the spirit – or, in the case of my veins, mysteries of the ever-obscured, ever-evolving, science of Biology. In our dreams, are we offered a glimpse of them – our perception of the world thus no final painting, merely a sketch of it.

Katie Joslin-Allen, third-place winner of Write on Art 2023, Years 10/11