Thursday 26th December 2006

This page is incomplete but I have put it in because it marks a stage.

Composition, teaching aids, depiction of feeling.

The problem with using symbolic images

Painting is not really a story telling medium, nor is it good at conveying abstract ideas. However, as demonstrated during the renaissance it can be used to illustrate stories and sometimes, with considerable assistance from symbols, ideas. Often, even when the meaning of the symbols has been lost it is possible to infer a meaning from them. Nevertheless, in general, in order to understand an illustrative image full of symbols the viewer needs to know the story, the symbols and what they represent.

For instance it is difficult to understand what my pictures: Christmass Card, how we pacified our genocidal neighbours and especially genocide in Rwanda refer to without additional explanation. Both the "genocidal neighbours" and "Rwanda" paintings contain very specific elements

An example of this is provided by my Iraq Christmass Card and the Israeli Separation wall. When I showed these in a bar at the Playa de Daimuz in Spain quite a few people knew nothing about the war against Iraq and even fewer knew about the separation wall. This seriously inhibited people's ability to appreciate the pictures. I had provided some printed explanatory material but its form and manner of presentation was unsatisfactory. These problems were much greater with the genoicide in Rwanda. By contrast people seem to have no difficulty in understanding Our Garden of Eden. I think this is because it is easy to build a story around the symbols. The central question then is how to deal with less easily illustrated subjects.

The picture as a teaching aid

About a year before painting these pictures I had met a Mormon who was part of a team from the church of the Latter-day Saints prosyletising in the north (of Ireland). I sat next to him on the bus from Belfast to Derry and took advantage of the situation to interrogate him. In the course of this I complemented him on the fine set of illustrations at the back of his Book of Mormon. I later discovered that these were famous pictures not least because of their having been painted by Arnold Friberg, the man employed by Cecil B. De Mille to design some of the set pieces in his film "the Ten Commandments". My Mormon companion then proceeded to use these pictures as a teaching aid, pointing as he explained: here is Jesus, here are Aztec temples, here are the gentiles, etc. The memory of this meeting and his Book of Mormon which he gave me, stayed with me and eventually suggested a solution to the painting problem I am discussing: that of how to paint pictures illustrating complex ideas in the absence of a public common iconography.

The need for a common iconography

During the Renaiscance it was normal for painters to produce pictures with titles such as Tobias and the Angel, Peace and War, etc. The pictures would contain identifiable figures which could then serve as the focus for a discussion, for instance concerning morality. The way in which the figures were posed, how they related to each other and the context in which this was taking place would all go towards favouring some explanations over others.

The patrons of the time were part of a community whose members shared a common educational background. Thus it could be assumed that an educated man or woman would know what a painting such as "Peace and War" referred to. This allowed painters to speak of complex ideas in ways it is difficult for us to do today.

There currently exists in the western world, no common base of stories or iconography. This is a unwelcome restriction on a painter's ability to express complex ideas clearly. However, there is a possible solution which will need refining before it becomes maximally effective. It is to make use of the ubiquitous and currently close to idiotic Artist's Statement.

The Fogra also known as the Artist's Statement

It has become recent practice, possibly because of the loss of a common symbolic language, for exhibitions to be accompanied by an Artist's Statement which typically is incontinent post-modernist tosh.

I used to argue that this statement ought strictly to be an integral part of the work since in my opinion a work of art ought to be complete in itself. It should not require explanation. My point was that if the work required an explanantion then the artist had done a poor job. It was up to the art critic and not the artist to provide additional material regarding the artist's interests, motives and technical innovations. Things have now gone well beyond this. On a recent visit to the Tate Modern I discovered that beside each painting was a piece of paper not only explaining the work but also informing the viewer how to go about appreciating it. ARRGGHHH!!!! In their churches the priests now interpret the art to the public. The Philistines have indeed taken over the world.

However things are as they are and are there to be exploited. Appropriately reformatted and represented these pieces of paper and lessons in art appreciation may be put to legitimate use. The first and most obvious move is to use the text to tell a story to which the picture is then an illustration. Another is to give pictures very long titles, for instance fill an A4 brass plaque with Times 24 point bold. Another still is to dispense with the text all together except during the process of designing the picture but more about this later.

Let us refer to this piece of paper as the Fogra - an Irish term meaning a notice such as for instance the ones placed outside of archiological monuments and which say, first in Irish and then English that this is an ancient monument and not to be defaced. Otherwise the notice is wholly uninformative but always read by all who visit the site even when from long experience they know exactly what it will say. This is the term I use to denote the Artist's Statemet: a Fogra.

As an aside, in the context of the meaningless drivel exhibited in so many galleries I have long nursed the ambition to put on a show entitled "Fogra of Ireland" which shows say thirty large close up photographs of the notice from sites around Ireland. The shot contains nothing else but the Fogra and the bit of ground below it. It would be a hoot!!!

A practical example and lessons to be learned

Combining symbol with brushwork

Play off technique against the symbols

That is one of the things I'm attempting in this picture.

Contrast the rough srokes of the killing frenzy with the coolness of the Jewish women's figures. The strokes reflect the violence of the deed contrasted withthe women's resistance through an obstinate unwillingness to die.

Let's see if it works!


Conceive of yourself as developing the "story". That which the renaisance Italians referred to as "li'historia": that which the picture is speaking of. Properly done

Properly done the picture should end up with a clear internal logic. This is a desirable quality which adds considerable interest to the picture. If the picture is attractive and intriguing, the viewer will be tempted to enguire further and here the "Fogra" might help. But the important thing is this:
1. We gain the freedom to talk in depth about serious issues.
2. That which we say is decipherable.
Those are huge gains.

When the avant-garde becomes stale-garde the time has come for retro-garde!

23.44 on the 28th. Pause editing/writing the blog till tomorrow

The picture as it is to date

fisher of men

hand fire

party alongside death march

reds to the rescue

party alongside death march of jewish women

Das Folk: The Nation

das Folk, the flag

das Folk the flag


Killing Frenzy

jew killing frenzy

jewish women death march, nazi bonfire, killing frenzy

ghouls and tree

hand fire ghouls

party alongside death march of jewish women

Sadam's thugs beating political prisoners.

saddam hussein's thugs beating political prisoners

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Page last modified: 18:54 Monday 13th. May 2013