painting with bitumen paint


From 2006-2020, Delpha dripped bitumen paint in what she considered was a performative practice that theorised how body, movement and gesture could work with the conceptual medium of dark viscous bitumen paint. Bitumen paint was used as a  metaphor for female fluidity and multiplicity. 

Liquid Selves (2006-2011) are a series of monochrome paintings that explore the nature of Self. Many of the paintings use pattern to evoke texture, depth, dramatic interplay and domestic resonance – and explore the many roles women play during our lives.

The titles of many of these monochrome paintings are made from combinations of pronouns to infer the multiple lives that we all lead. A research project and self-published book accompanied the project and Delpha continued to use bitumen paint for many projects until 2021.

Liquid Selves paintings were shown in shows and sold in various galleries around the UK including  Marburae Gallery, Off the Shelf, Saltburn, the Art Lounge, Derby, Double Lives, Nottingham, Tactile Bosch, Cardiff, Redearth gallery, Devon, the Crypt Gallery, St Ives, Drawing the line, Hilton Young Gallery, Helsetine Gallery, with a solo show at Helston Museum Gallery, 2013.

photo of the artist in her studio with monochrome paintings

Painting with Bitumen paint

Experimenting with materials that had metaphorical resonances with caring and mothering, I discovered bitumen paint. I had used it to coat an old pram and liked its association with Kristeva’s ’dark continent’. The viscosity of dripping the treacly bitumen paint seemed like a kind of mothery – the slime humans crawled out of. The dripping of bitumen paint from a stick was concise and quick and fitted around limited studio time. The process uses was performative bodily gesture to make marks, yet in an entirely way from gestural abstract paint splattering. Dripping bitumen paint fluidly from a stick is more like Japanese calligraphy that create beautiful fluid lines that have a tactile quality. It is an abject messy substance that creates visual metaphors for fluidity, ambivalence, chance and hazard. Visual iconography and texts that visualize the body and self explore a non-narratable selves as well as the self-lessness of motherhood.

The flow of the bitumen from the stick makes multiple female figures that are often tied to small squiggles that might be children. The figures are multiple selves, not one identity but a combination of all those that inhabit us. The multiplicities of the I past, present and future; all the people we are, all the people we can be and all the people we have appropriated and masqueraded as, including mother. Contemplating all the people you have been in relation to the person you might think you are now is part of the fluid problematic process of becoming.

Dripping bitumen paint for me, is a way of creating networks of codes and signs that explore the politics of female identity and construct alternative ways of understanding multiplicity. Inventing aesthetic forms that share trans-subjective processes has the potential to share transformative values.


Liquid selves are a series of works that have delicately dripped figures using fine curvi-linear lines, movement and gesture. Bitumen cannot be completely controlled so there is always the element of chance and failure. The marks can never be exactly replicated.

When I am not happy with them many paintings are re-worked and layered up with gesso and colour, and I consider these a kind of palimpsest which rubs out, layers time and changes meaning. Bitumen never behaves, it is unstable and bleeds through. There are ways of trying to control it yet there is always limited control. The works are not ephemeral yet they will not last forever as historical uses of bitumen (including the colour ‘mother brown’ traditionally made from bitumen) show that the acids contained in the bitumen will eventually corrupt and destroy the materials they come into contact with. Using this material to as a conceptual process and metaphor, bitumen has been used for many different projects to embody female and maternal experience.


Read a book about using bitumen and look  paintings on Delpha’s contemporary painting website.