Narrative: option 4, ex 4.2

For this task, I need to develop a series of paintings that ‘appears to develop a narrative but which ultimately leaves something important unsaid’.

There is advice about how to identify the story and plan for it – storyboards for instance to connect the images and develop motifs. How the work might ultimately be viewed is a further consideration.

To date, I’ve worked on some rather dark issues and produced some quite dark paintings. This is clearly a part of me but on the whole, humour is my key mode of communication so I’m thinking I might use a more comedic source for this series. Obviously, I need to avoid cartoonish representations because that isn’t me, and also illustrative ones because that isn’t either what I want or the actual framework for the task.

1st March. Began with a large piece of black card that I divided with white charcoal into five sections to accommodate the five cameo stories. The organisation was somewhat random because I knew I didn’t want them to be of equal size. The theme is music so musicality and the flow of it was in my head.

I added layers of different kinds and strengths of medium to each section; again with no real plan other than to provide a ‘setting’ for each piece. Some are mostly white primer, some white acrylic paint, one a series of pink stripes, and one the very dilute remnants of one of those. I don’t actually know which is what as they’ve been sitting in pots for a while under cover to stay moist.

This is the template for the five paintings. I’m undecided as yet whether to connect them with a motif of some sort, or maybe detach them physically.
These are the images I found to give me a mental prod in the direction of imagery. They sit alongside printouts of the five stories which, for now, are in different fonts of differing sizes.
Here I’ve brought in what seem to me to be icons of the various musical forms – the jazz hat (jazz), the bow tie (classical – the Proms), the flags (rock festivals), and a totally excruciating seat (chamber music). Minimalism is exemplified by John Cage’s 4’33” in which his audience sat in silence for exactly that period of time while he sat at a piano, not playing it.

My emerging plan is to focus on painting the representatives of the musical genres, with or without the whole text or samples of it (see underlining), and to use another motif to connect them. Perhaps!

Chair: what would a chair designed by Kafka look like? Long, thin, totally excruciating?

Bow tie: something to do with a podium and a swell of notes moving along the bottom being sucked in by bobbing heads?

Flags: I think I’ll be painting these on something that feels like fabric. Or maybe making very bright prints and collaging the shapes onto the card.

Jazz hat: still thinking about this but it begs for an animation.

Cage: I’m tempted to try writing 4’33” around that ‘tondo’ like the grooves on a record, although that really would present a challenge.

2nd March 2022.

Not done yet but top left is jazz – acrylic and collaged plain paper with text; top centre is festival – acrylics with collaged banners and pennants; far right is chamber music in dilute acrylics, undiluted acrylic (head, feet, hands), and charcoal; centre is minimalist – acrylics, gloss, and a stylus; bottom is classical – acrylics.

‘Jazz’ is centred around the jazz hat and may in due course include some pencil work representing my impression of its organisation. ‘Festival’ is based on Glastonbury – loud, vivid, and wild. ‘Chamber Music’ comes from my memories of Sunday afternoon ‘corset dramas’ where three of four people would be sitting bolt upright while someone played the piano. It looked excruciating. ‘Minimalist’ draws entirely on John Cage’s 4’33” performance of silence and takes the form of a record which I’m still trying to inscribe with the playing speed – obviously not 45 or 33; and ‘Classical’ comes from the BBC Proms with those lines of Promenaders in their bow ties bobbing up and down at the front.

Full painting set. Unfinished.

Rock festival.

Chamber music.


Classical – Proms.

There’s more to do yet, particularly with Classical and maybe also Festival; but I’m happy with Jazz, Minimalism, and Chamber.

3rd March – and then I wasn’t, but this may change. Really it’s the final painting of the five that is giving me grief, and the rather cartoonish way I’ve linked them, so I may just cut them out and find a way to present them that justifies the odd shape of the three abutting the tondo/45 disc.

4th March – cut them all out, leaving John Cage in sections within the other four, and cutting off the ‘leg’ of the bow tie at the bottom.

5th-7th March – worked on the classical representation and assembled it from its two parts.

Jazz. The contemporary no-beat variety feels to me like the musical equivalent of scribble! Acrylics, pencil, collaged text.
Rock, maybe Glastonbury. Gaudy and noisy. Vibrant acrylics on black card with collaged and painted flags, and collaged text.
This image has been digitally extracted with no background. Pretty much like the 4’33” soundless performance. Acrylics with gloss medium.
Classical – proms. Acrylics and collaged musical references. This rationalised piece has the ‘leg’ of the original glued to the centre strip and forming its own representational sheet music.
Chamber. All those Victorian dramas where women in tight bodices sit bolt upright on unforgiving chairs and seem not to breathe for fear of scaring off the one violin. This piece, and the jazz, are probably my favourites.

All of these pieces add to my catalogue of narrative ideas I can draw on for the personal project. Each incorporates text without telling the whole story, and draws on the whole story for its framework.

Audio tracks via Epidemic Sounds.

9th March. “Which type of mystery did you opt for? How far did the way you constructed the composition, the colours you used, your brushwork/paint handling or the installation of the work contribute to the mystery? How might this exercise inform or develop your studio work?” Course materials.

I’ve been increasingly of the view that communication is one of the purposes of creative output, so deliberately obfuscating something is not an aim. I’ve done it with short fiction and found that it’s only graduates of creative writing courses and particular publications that (claim to) like stories with no clear ending; everyone else appreciates at least a hint of an outcome if not a full resolution.

So I wasn’t aiming to be so mysterious as to lose contact with the majority of ordinary viewers, and to help this along, I used one of my own pieces of written work, ‘How to Tell What Kind of Music Gig You’re Attending’ as the story. This comprises tongue-in-cheek descriptions of five different genres of music – jazz, rock, classical, minimalist, and chamber – and pointers as to how to tell them apart.

I made five semi-illustrative paintings, some of which contain selected pieces of the pertinent text, and each of which I have treated differently in terms of colour, paint application, and style. They are probably relatively distinctive so that, with a bit of thought, people might identify them first as a series, and second as representatives of particular musical genres. The video gives the game away entirely though!

It’s hard to assess the longer term impact of this exercise on future work, except to recognise that the two I like best – Jazz and Chamber – involved the fewest brush strokes and employed the least complexity.

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