A biography of painting - part 3 continued

"Everything can be a myth provided it is conveyed by a discourse." - Rolande Barthes, Mythologies(1957)

Of course art history is a discourse and it has a complete language that both instructs society as much as it is informed by it. To represent psychological angst modernism (a mythic construct in itself) employs a number of codes that are readily recognised, even by those who have no art training. These are now instinctively recognised by anyone and everyone who looks at art, and even in everyday experience.

The painting on the right is recognised as depicting angst by most people in western society. It is not just the open mouth and the hands but also the acute angularity of the pier and the swirls of the background. The codes of the painting translate throughout culture and across various media - from the cinema to the tee shirt.


Edvard Munch

Van Gogh's Starry Night also enunciates emotion, through swirls and repetitive dabs that elude to the rumination that is a trait of traumatised thinking, constantly returning to the same ideas that worry and disturb.

In the painting below I have reduced the depiction of the screaming man to a specific shape and adopted the swirling repetitive lines to represent angst. The painting is both abstract and representational in equal measures. The attempt was to meld the expressionist and conceptual.

Angst in the Eighties, 1985

The painting on the right shows how reductive representation was used by Sydney Nola. He incorporated the shape of the helmeted Kelly with more representational elements such as the horse and as a discrete image within a narrative series of paintings, the result is sort of like a comic strip - which is not entirely a bad thing.

Cartoon conventions and higher art references have their own peculiar relationship, as was explored in pop art.


Vincent van Gogh

Sydney Nolan (1947)


Not only could emotion be represented symbolically through repetition but also movement. There is real value in repetition. In repetition Gertrude Stein found insistance. Duchamp represented time as a series of instances (based on Eadweard Muybridge's photographs) compressed into a single moment - the moment of the painting. Although each painting is a single moment it can, in both the mind of the viewer and the intention of the artist, represent an implied narrative within an imagined dimension of time.

In cartoons we find this becomes movement lines. By some coincidence this reference was also adopted Keith Haring at about the same time I was doing it.

Yet Another Nude Descending a Starircase, 1985

I was also trying to give my paintings a certain dynamic quality. I used angled lines to create a sense of movement within the rectangle of the canvas. Also I used the drop shadow, which is probably the most graphic convention that suggests a third dimension. These elements, including the limited colours were used as a defined vocabulary that could be carried across the various paintings. The elements of the paintings, although varied, were designed to be repeated.

A copy is more powerful than an original - Barthes(1957)

For images of my paintings from this time [ Click here ].


Marcel Duchamp
Nude descending a staircase (1912)

Keith Haring