I realise that i’m grumpy when i paint. It’s not that i’m in a bad mood, it’s just that i’m very focused. The thing about watercolours is that they’re alive, or rather, they are until they dry, so you’re on a timeframe to get the job done. The paints behave differently if you leave it five minutes longer, which is why i am always somewhat brusque if someone tries to talk to me when i’m half way through.
I was trying to paint a street today that rode up a hillside with houses on both sides, leading down to the quayside and the water. It became a rather technical exercise of perspective, trying to work out whether a particular roofline should slope down or up. It’s a funny thing, but when drawing, we often tend to move the perspective up. It’s like dreaming: most people dream in a third person, isometric perspective, high in the room looking down. Like an out of body experience. We see ourselves, like in a film. Weirdly, as i write this and try to think if it’s true for me, i can’t visualise the point of view i take in my own dreams. Maybe the mechanism is similar, or maybe it’s just that perspective is easier to draw from above?
The bottom line is that i’m ok as a technical illustrator: i can wield a set square and mapping pens if i need to, but for preference i tend to adopt a looser style. For me, painting is an interpretation of reality, not intended to capture it like a photo. Although, if it comes to that, photos are just an interpretation as well: framing is a tricky thing that changes the meaning and context of what is framed. Where is that famous photo that shows a policeman with truncheon raised over a fallen figure: in a tight frame, you see the policeman persecuting a lone protestor, but when you see the shot pan out, there is a crowd attacking the person, the policemen is defending them.
Meaning is a strange and elusive creature. It’s the same with writing. It’s always a narrative, an interpretation of reality. The truth is invariably subjective.
One story can have many narratives, each one subjective in it’s own right. This is why history is an elusive creature: ultimately, just a series of interpretations. Folk songs, folk tales, stories that come through communities of people, heritage and folklore, these things are changed as the stories go around. It’s like every generation adds some new paint, changes one piece of the whole, leaves their mark on the story. Sometimes, the story changes so much that it’s hard to know what’s original and what’s new. Sometimes the context of a story changes so much that we simply have no common frame of reference, so can’t even start to imagine what ‘true’ means anyway.
So i sit here, painting a city that has evolved and changed over time, reading about fold stories that have evolved and been retold. An ever changing narrative. Perspective in a painting is a simple set of rules that i can follow or challenge at will. Perspective in storytelling is an altogether harder creature to capture, like the painting, almost alive.
Heading North: the blog is on holiday exploring the coast of Norway for two weeks, heading up the coastline to the arctic circle. Holidays are times to explore new things, so we may detour from normal service for a few days.