Mary Gatenby

How far can it swim out through the eyes? takes its title from the poem Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror by John Ashbery. The embroidery uses the poem as a way of visually exploring how pattern and surface work together to create the illusion of depth. How far can it swim out through the eyes? combines studies of bladderwrack and anatomical dissection to create a traditional composition based on Tudor miniatures. By using patterns that trick the eye into seeing the ‘features of the whole’, the portrait attempts to answer the simple question – what are you made of?

I currently live in London and have worked at Tate Ward Auctions and in the Christie’s Archives.


(Big, but not coarse, merely on another scale,
Like a dozing whale on the sea bottom
In relation to the tiny, self-important ship
On the surface.) But your eyes proclaim
That everything is surface. The surface is what's there
And nothing can exist except what's there.
There are no recesses in the room, only alcoves,
And the window doesn't matter much, or that
Sliver of window or mirror on the right, even
As a gauge of the weather, which in French is
Le temps, the word for time, and which
Follows a course wherein changes are merely
Features of the whole.

Extract from Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, John Ashbery

How far can it swim out through the eyes?, 2020
Embroidery on cotton